Sublette Commissioners vote to not buy White Pine
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
August 2, 2011
The Sublette County Commissioners held their regular meeting on Tuesday, August 2nd in Pinedale. One of the agenda items was a discussion and vote on a proposal by the Citizens to Save White Pine asking that the County buy the struggling ski area and take over its operations. The asking price tag was $1.1 million. This agenda item brought in a full house audience to hear the discussion.
Commissioner Joel Bousman said the commission was invited to meet with the owners and Forest Service officials at White Pine Ski Area last week, which they did. At that time they were presented with a proposal to buy the ski area, and were asked to review it. "In fairness to the owners, we needed to make a decision," Commissioner Bousman said.
There was considerable discussion on the topic with a division among the audience and Commissioners about whether or not taxpayer money should be used to step in and take over running the ski area.
Bousman said, "In order for that operation to work efficiently and not lose money, it needs to be year-round." He added that the Forest Service indicated they were very willing to work with White Pine to expand their operations, but they need a proposal to review. Bousman indicated he was reluctant for the Commission to take over a year-round facility that would compete with private enterprises in the area for summer use, including restaurants and outfitters and guides.
Commissioner Andy Nelson said, "I love White Pine. Iím not a skier, but I love White Pine. It is a tremendous service to the community." Nelson had several concerns, echoing Bousmanís comments about competing with private businesses, and also that there was no real land included as part of the assets.
Commissioner John Linn said he had received a lot of public input on the topic. He said he would prefer to delay making a decision until they had more information on the value of the assets and the economic impacts of the ski area on the local economy.
Citizens to Save White Pine representatives, Rex Poulson and Ken Konicek, both said the partners did not want to be long-term owners of White Pine. The group purchased the ski area in the fall of 2010 as a last ditch effort to keep it open for the 2010-2011 ski season. "We donít want to be the owner," Poulson said, "We all have our own businesses to run." Konicek said, "Weíll put the for sale sign up. We did go in with just strictly a short-term focus. Thatís not our business and not what we wanted to do."
A number of audience members spoke both for and against the proposal.
Commissioner Linn ultimately made a motion to get a 3rd party appraisal of the building, facilities, lift and permit to determine the value of the enterprise. That motion died for lack of a second from either of the other two Commissioners.
Former White Pine owner Stuart Thompson said he already could tell them what the lift was worth because he had a purchase agreement and an appraisal. He said the lift was worth $250,000 as it sits on the site now. Removed and ready to move to another site, it is worth $400,000. Installed on another site, it is worth one million. "Thatís what it is worth." Current owner Ken Konicek disagreed saying, "It is worth a million where it sits."
Chairman Bousman asked if there were any other motions?
Commissioner Andy Nelson then moved that the County Commission doesnít buy White Pine. Bousman seconded that motion. After more lengthy discussion, Bousman and Nelson voted aye, Linn voted nay.
All three Commissioners were in favor of exploring more possibilities on what the county could do to help the ski area, short of buying it. Bousman suggested the owners meet with Sublette Economic Resource Council (SERC) Executive Director Sam Bixler to discuss ideas.