Steamboat moves forward with project to redo Ski Time Square

Hank Lacey
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
This rendering shows planned improvements at Ski Time Square. Steamboat Springs City Council is moving forward with the project after a 5-2 vote on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.
City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy photo

On Tuesday evening, Steamboat Springs City Council pushed forward the long-sought Ski Time Square redevelopment project after a spirited discussion focused on the use of fossil fuels to melt snow at the site.

The 5-2 vote of the panel, acting as the Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority, effectively ratified the terms of a proposed easement for the project by the owners of Torian Plum condominiums.

“I think that this ship has sailed,” council member Joella West said. 

During a presentation to City Council, Redevelopment Authority Project Manager Gates Gooding explained that an electric system had significant drawbacks. 

“They’re as loud as lawnmowers,” Gooding said. “It would be highly disruptive.”

On the other hand, Gooding pointed out, the use of natural gas to melt snow would emit about 90 times the amount of carbon dioxide as plowing and hauling. He also said that use of natural gas would “create an emissions legacy for years to come” and suggested that future city councils may not appreciate the choice of natural gas. 

“Other communities have regretted authorizing snowmelt systems,” Gooding said.

Opponents of the planned natural gas snowmelt system pointed to the city’s Climate Action Plan as a reason to avoid the use of natural gas at Ski Time Square. The CAP, adopted in 2021 in cooperation with Routt County, envisions transition to renewable energy options and away from fossil fuels.

Paul Bony, a representative of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, told City Council the Climate Action Plan should be regarded as a reason not to approve additional natural gas-powered projects.

“Every new addition of fossil fuel emissions you approve is a barrier you have to get through before you get to the core reduction,” Bony said.

Other opponents suggested that the Climate Action Plan compelled rejection of the Ski Time Square proposal.

“You have an approved climate action plan,” said Rich Levy, chair of the Sierra Club’s Trappers Lake chapter. “It’s your responsibility to meet the goals.”

But several community members argued that electric snowmelt systems are not yet technically feasible, and pointed to a safety imperative of approving a snowmelt system based on current technology.

City Council appeared swayed by comments that, when electric technology improves, it can replace a natural gas system.

“The snowmelt systems themselves would be plug and play,” Gooding said.

“I love the fact that we can tidy up the gas one day,” council member Michael Buccino said. “Right now, electricity at Ski Time Square is not a viable option.”

Council member Ed Briones also said the possibility of someday switching out the natural gas snowmelt system appealed to him.

“I’m not a fan of the boiler system,” Briones said. “As much as I hate the boiler system, I’d like to see this project move forward.”

Council members also appeared swayed by arguments that the easement negotiated by city staff would not be granted unless a natural gas system was approved.

Donn Lewis, president of the Torian Plum condominium homeowners association, said the owners of those units would not agree to an electric snowmelt system.

“Torean Plum cannot obligate its owners to untried technology and ever-increasing electric rates,” Lewis said.

Given that rigid stance, Gooding explained, the city had no choice but to go along with the natural gas option if the Ski Time Square project was to proceed. Without an authorized snowmelt system, “our ability to get these easements would be in jeopardy.” 

Council member Dakotah McGinlay was unconvinced.

“I think we can renegotiate,” McGinlay said.

She and another dissenter, fellow council member Gail Garey, were unable to convince their colleagues.

“If we’re going to move forward, now is the time,” City Council President Robin Crossan said. “We know we need economic development in that area.”

Construction on the Ski Time Square project is expected to commence in 2024.

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