With a large crowd at the Mammoth Town Council meeting Wednesday night, Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory pressed the Town to help out with air service subsidy money. He said, “I’m not faking it. Alaska Air is really watching us and how we handle the bankruptcy.” He called air service “basic infrastructure.” The CEO, just out of a rough public meeting in June Lake the night before, said, “People are watching this vote and whether the community is behind it. It matters,” said Gregory, “and we need a vote or air service is over with tonight.”
Gregory had explained that the banks that hold the loans for Mammoth Mountain Ski Area demanded that the company make some more big cuts in expenses to meet loan financial requirements. That demand led to the closure of June Mountain and the loss of air service subsidy money for the fall. Gregory said when Mammoth Mountain told Alaska Air they did not want to guarantee service for the fall, the airline, Gregory said, told Mammoth Mountain either pay for fall or Alaska will pull out all air service to Mammoth Lakes.
Most people who spoke at the meeting Wednesday supported air service and the Town payment for part of the subsidy. Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht said the staff recommended a loan from Measure U or utility tax funds. Councilman John Eastman wanted to know how such a decision would impact the current bankruptcy court proceedings. Town Attorney Andy Morris said the court could not touch special tax money like Measure U. “It’s not available for settlement of the lawsuit,” he said.
Business owner Tom Cage pointed to return on investment – $325,000 for air service subsidy in exchange for $1 million from the FAA due to more than 10,000 enplanements every year and a lot more in tax dollars from those who fly into town. Said Cage, “Its probably four times the investment.” Others spoke of the critical nature of air service for Mammoth as a tourist town and as a home to locals.
Supervisor Byng Hunt of Mammoth was asked if Mono County would help with subsidy money. He chastised the Council for trying to use Measure U money, said he supported air
service, but told the Council to “get back to basics.” Hunt said the County has not voted on its budget yet and faces big money problems too.
Later Tom Cage stood up again to loudly accuse Hunt of failure to support air service. Cage said to Hunt, “I’m appalled you don’t think there’s enough benefit to at least say you will
fight for some level of air service. I am appalled,” shouted Cage, “that you are telling us to get back to basics. How dare you!”
Ward Jones, developer and motel owner, said he invested in Mammoth in large part because air service was on the way. Jones said, “The decision you make tonight is being watched very closely. You are under the microscope like you wouldn’t believe.”
Council members basically said there was no other money to use, air service is critical and the time is now. Jo Bacon made a motion to approve a resolution for a loan from Measure U to the Town to be paid back next fiscal year or July 1 of 2013. Michael Raimondo seconded the motion. The vote was unanimous.