Today’s decision by Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas to approve a land exchange on top of Wolf Creek Pass requested by billionaire Red McCombs is both a disappointing and absurd decision to “green light” a development that would deface the inherent wild beauty of the area and ignore the widespread public opposition to the huge development.
McComb’s snowy dream he envisioned almost 30 years ago, that has morphed to become his hoped-for Village at Wolf Creek, would constitute a city with thousands of residential units, parking for more than 4,000 vehicles, a dozen restaurants, more than 200,000 square feet of commercial space and storage for 25-30 million gallons of water. Oh, just how quaint a village that would be…..
Let’s be straight about the absurdity of Dallas’s Record of Decision (ROD) on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The ROD encapsulates the environmental and social impacts of the mega-development with this statement, “…negative effects appear to be minimal, limited in scope, and can be mitigated.” “(ROD, page 25, #4) And this is a statement meant to justify the “public interest” as reason to approve the land exchange which would facilitate highway access that the development must have to begin construction. One has to wonder how a professional natural resource specialist like Dallas can come to the conclusion that a city built for thousands of residents in critical wildlife habitat above 10,000 feet on the Continental Divide situated many miles from basic services can be described as “minimal” in its effects. We know that the resident Canada lynx are scratching their ears over that piece of logic.
Within the ROD the Forest Service has confirmed “the intent of the Forest Service in creating the private inholding adjacent to the Wolf Creek Ski Area was to create a village.” (ROD, page 11). Which of course leads to the question as to whether the Forest Service really served its role as a neutral decision maker on the relative merits of the land exchange. From our viewpoint, and the many thousands of locals on either side of the Pass that have written comments in opposition to the project, the agency did not prove to be a neutral and well-reasoned decision maker. This leads us to the obvious question, “Are politics and backroom deal-making a part of the decision making?”
It’s a reasonable question to ask given the history that there was collusion between the agency and McComb’s outfit during the last attempt at a viable EIS in the mid-2000’s. At that moment in the timeline of the controversy, the Forest Service displayed a pattern of withholding sensitive information and it was necessary for the conservation forces to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to bring forth details of collusion in the creation of the EIS.
With that as the backdrop, the Alliance and its partners filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in February 2014 requesting that the public record regarding the creation of the EIS, including related communications, be brought forward. The agency provided some of the documents, however, there were redactions (omissions) of significance and later the Forest Service admitted to violating deadlines that necessitated the need for them to explain the withholding of requested documents. The agency then ignored our administrative appeal related to the FOIA, which necessitated our lawsuit of September 9, 2014 to force the agency to be forthcoming to the citizenry with the full story.
The Forest Service could aid the effort towards complete transparency by simply providing all the public records related to the EIS development. Without such transparency, and in light of the absurdity of the decision that the project would have only “minimal” negative effects on the Wolf Creek Pass area, the question hangs like a cornice on the pass, “was there collusion again?”
The Alliance will continue to adamantly oppose McComb’s proposed development, just as we have for more than 15 years. The hundreds of bumper stickers still seen throughout the territory proclaim the true story of McComb’s perverse vision for the forests and meadows on the east side of the Pass – their greed would result in the Pillage at Wolf Creek. If we continue to stand together we will indeed succeed in guaranteeing that there will never be a Pillage on our beloved Wolf Creek Pass landscape. Amen. Alynx.
1/6/15 Update: We submitted, with our partner Rocky Mountain Wild, 96 pages detailing 22 objections to their decision. Stay tuned!
Timeline of Wolf Creek Village History
Read the Record of Decision