Pillage at Wolf Creek – Fall 2016 Update

Photo of skiers at Wolf Creek

Are they still trying to build that Village at Wolf Creek?

Yes. And we’re still fighting it. In fact, we just filed an opening brief in the U.S District Court of Colorado as a part of our most recent lawsuit to halt the land exchange.

Press Release: Opening Briefing Filed in Lawsuit to Keep Wolf Creek Pass Wild

Before you reminisce about the deep pools of powder you floated through last season, here’s a brief update on the decades-long fight we’ve been waging against the so-called ‘Village.’

Remind me: What is the project about again?

Well connected Texas billionaire “Red” McCombs is trying to build a “village” at the top of Wolf Creek Pass. Unlike other villages you may have visited, we think this one would be neither quaint nor hip. Rather, the 8,000-person city atop Wolf Creek Pass that McCombs has pursued for decades would be massive and tragically out of place.

It’s envisioned to be a year-round community, yet would sit above 10,000 feet in elevation in a region that receives the most snowfall in the state. The development would be many treacherous miles from emergency services, smack in the middle of a critical wildlife corridor, and right above rare and fragile fen wetlands. Oh, and adjacent to your favorite barebones ski resort. You know, the one that has spurned commercialization in favor of the type of a family-friendly, no-frills experience that is so hard to find these days.

Wasn’t it approved?

Yes, but we believe it was approved illegally and two of our lawsuits are still pending.

In 2014, the Forest Service released an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the land swap necessary to grant road access to the massive development. Mind you, this was their second attempt. We sued and won over their first EIS, which was grossly inadequate and illegally influenced by collusion with the developers. Needless to say, we’re suspicious of attempt number two.

How did the Forest Service decide that this massive, unsafe, and destructive development is in the public interest? Rocky Mountain Wild (RMW), one of our long-time partners in this epic fight, filed two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documentation of their decision-making process. When the Forest Service failed to respond to those FOIA requests, RMW rightly sued.

The judge in the first FOIA lawsuit ruled the Forest Service withheld public documents and ordered the release of 80,000 pages. When our lawyers poured over the pages, it became clear why the agency didn’t rush to release them. Emails reveal evidence of the Forest Service concealing and destroying public information and the developer pressuring agency staff.

Two lawsuits are still pending: the second FOIA lawsuit and the main complaint we filed with our partners regarding the legality of the land exchange decision itself.

Even without all of the public documents owed to us, we have a strong case. This case is predictably reminiscent of our last, which we won. There is simply no way that, done correctly, a legitimate EIS could result in such a destructive decision for our public lands. As our lawyers pour over the tens of thousands of FOIA documents that continue to arrive, our case only strengthens. If you’re curious, we highlight some of the most egregious finds in the Wolf Creek Files.

What’s being done now?

Under an agreement we came to with the developers, they can’t break ground until our lawsuit makes its way through the courts. We filed the opening brief this week and the defendants have 60 days to prepare and present their response, which will be followed by an additional 60-day period for us to file a reply brief. That means the judge will have all the documents and arguments in hand by early February 2017.

How long will it take for the judge to decide? Your guess is as good as ours, but we’re confident you’ll be skiing village-free for another season. And you can be confident we’ll keep doing everything in our power to make sure that continues to be the case.

Can I take action?

We’re working hard to ensure Wolf Creek Pass will always be free of a metropolis, but we could use your help.

We’ve made it easy for you to let your Senators and Representative know you want Wolf Creek Pass protected and you don’t appreciate the Forest Service yielding to billionaires over the public interest. If you haven’t already, click on the link below to send a pre-written email you can easily personalize.

Take Action

Nice work! Now how does that snow dance go? Opening day at Wolf Creek Ski Area is set for November 4th.

More Resources

4 Comments

  • Relative to the Forest Service caving into Red McCombs’ plans to build out Wolf Creek Pass, you might want to review what happened recentlyh with the California Coastal Commission. Despite many secret meetings (known legally as ex parte) by some CCC commissioners to develop the Banning Ranch on the coast near Newport Beach, public pressure on the commissioners actually overturned their plans to approve the project. Previously, the CCC was a stalwart steward of the 1,100 California coastline. But the commercial and residential developers worked hard to get approvals that had been previously denied.
    Now here is where you might want to see if there is a similar situation. Did McCombs have secret (ex parte) meetings with members of the Forest Service? Were there favors promised as with some members of the California Coastal Commission?
    Since the discovery of those ex parte (secret meetings between commissioners and the developers), the five commissioners who held ex parte meetings are being sued with possible resulting fines potentially up ro $5M each for violating the public trust of protecting the coast, rather than selling it to the highest bidders.
    The result of the pressure from the investigation: The Banning Ranch project has been killed altogether. It seemed like a long shot but the opponents of the project won.
    I offer this case study as a possible weapon against both the Forest Service employees who sold out to McCombs and against McCombs himself. Try using the ex parte strategy against the Forest Service. If there was a FS committee who met with McCombs? Where are the meeting notes? The Freedom of Information Act should find those documents.

    Good luck

    • Thanks David. That is one of the big questions we are trying to answer through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. We do have evidence from communications we have received that the developers were pressuring agency staff. We also know that regional and federal offices were overriding decisions made at the local level. We don’t have all the details of why and how, but our case is looking very solid that this decision was not made solely on the best interest of the public. Stay tuned, we’ll let you know how it plays out.

  • Jan says:

    It would be such a tragedy to see Wolf Creek sold out by the government, in any form they take. I would hate to see what happened to Aspen happen to Wolf Creek. This beautiful valley now has so much traffic that we can’t find peace and quiet. The town is now filled with empty multi million dollar homes and ordinary people (who have lived and worked here for years) are no longer welcome. Even the skico offices have moved! Wildlife has difficulty finding the same peace and quiet, too. And Wolf Creek pass would make it dangerously difficult for the injuries that would happen there, since people don’t understand what double black runs mean. Aspen is bad enough and we have a fancy hospital right here. Good luck in maintaining the status quo and keeping that wonderful area wonderful.

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