Hatcher Pass ski area may happen in '11

Rindi White

PALMER -- If all goes as planned, cross-country skiers could be gliding along trails on the southern side of Hatcher Pass as early as the winter of 2011.

Mat-Su Borough engineering contractor DOWL HKM held an open house Wednesday at Colony Middle School to take public comments on the environmental impact statement the company prepared for the borough's planned Hatcher Pass development.

The borough has been planning for several years to build nordic and downhill skiing facilities in Hatcher Pass. It owns about 3,000 acres there and leases another 8,000 acres from the state.

After previous efforts to partner with private developers on the project fell through, the Mat-Su Assembly decided to pursue a more modest development plan using about $6 million in Federal Transit Administration funding.

That money will cover the cost of the environmental impact statement, said Ron Swanson, who is working as a contractor for the borough to build the long-awaited borough project. Enough money should be left over to buy right-of-way and build a road, parking lot and enclosed bus shelter for the nordic skiing area, Swanson said.

The Mat-Su Assembly agreed to focus on developing the nordic ski area for now and look for more funding before starting work on the downhill ski area. It also agreed as part of its 2011 budget to spend $200,000 to develop nordic ski trails in Hatcher Pass.

Work on the project won't begin until after the environmental impact statement is complete, however. DOWL is taking public comments on the impact statement now and will finalize it this fall. For more information or to read the impact statement and comment, visit www.hatcherpass.com.

A federal record of decision on the statement is expected this winter. At that time the Assembly can review the statement and decide how to proceed. If the Assembly agrees, Swanson said construction would begin next spring and said the ski area might be open by October of 2011.

Other aspects of Hatcher Pass use are controversial; a debate is still going on over how much access motorized users should have to the Palmer side of the popular state-managed recreational area.

But the plan to build a road off Edgerton-Parks Road to reach the proposed nordic skiing area, and to build a parking lot, bus shelter and trails there, is broadly supported. Some people still have concerns about the project.

Of the 15 people who attended the Wednesday open house, one resident, Dan Elliot, said the borough should plan for development along private property along the road leading to the proposed Nordic skiing area to prevent rampant commercial development there.

Another speaker, Fishhook Community Council secretary Joe Irvine, said the borough needs to discuss how the ski area development will affect the surrounding community.