Political turmoil has engulfed the Town of Mammoth Lakes, which just received a $30 million judgment against them for backing out of a 1997 land and hotel development deal. The Town Council is appealing the decision. But how the judgment may affect visiting skiers and snowboarders is the biggest question gnawing at those with reservations to ski at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area this winter.
The judgment comes from a dispute over airport land and a development project. The Mammoth Times (Jan. 8) boiled down the contents of the California Third Appellate District Court's 66-page decision to four items, three of which found the town guilty of "bollixed communications" with project developers and the Federal Aviation Administration, marching away from a signed contract, and fuzzy motives in changing the airport to accepting commercial aircraft.
The Town Council opted to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court. It has until Feb. 8 to file its petition, and the Supreme Court has 90 days after the filing to decide whether to hear the case or not.
Rob Clark, manager for the Town of Mammoth Lakes, issued a statement Jan. 6 indicating that the Town Council is also pursuing several other options, including negotiating a settlement. The Town is also investigating municipal bankruptcy as the $30 million judgment is almost double its annual budget.
"At this point, it is very premature to know how the litigation will play out. There is still a long way to go in the appeal process," Clark told OnTheSnow.
But the threat of potential disruption to flights in and out of Yosemite Mammoth Airport, which is owned and operated by the town, is of primary concern to visiting skiers and snowboarders. According to Clark, worries are unnecessary. "Winter air service is primarily self-supporting, and I am sure will not be affected," he said. "The town is providing a portion of the subsidy for summer service this year, but I suppose that is less of a concern to skiers."
Clark expressed confidence that other town services necessary for winter ski visitors such as road plowing and bus service would not be curtailed. "Snow removal is a very high priority for public safety and is very unlikely to be reduced," he said. "Even if there is a minor curtailment of town-funded transit, it is unlikely to be a big factor in the winter as most of the winter transit is provided by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. In short, even in the worst case, the key services will continue, and there is nothing for visitors to worry about."
So will the financial struggles of the town affect the ski area? "This happened to the town, a very small municipality that is important to us, but not related to the ski area," Rusty Gregory, CEO of Mammoth Mountain, told us. "A lot of details need to be sorted out and another round of legal maneuvering. It's too soon to tell what it will mean."
What is clear to Gregory is that this season at Mammoth is more than business as usual. "We've got record snow fall, record snow pack, and record visits," he said. "I've had better powder skiing this year than in my 32 years here."
John Urdi, director of Mammoth Lakes Tourism, echoed the sentiments of Gregory. "The judgment against the Town of Mammoth Lakes will not affect the service levels, activities, or offerings for our guests," he told us. "Mammoth Mountain is enjoying one of the snowiest winters on record, and we are sure to be skiing well into June. Our guests will see no difference in their experience due to this judgment."