Feds to redo Wolf Creek environmental review
August 9, 2008
DENVER ” The company proposing a housing and retail development near the Wolf Creek ski area has submitted a new application to build a road across federal land, launching new reviews of the project that had been held up in court.
The U.S. Forest Service will soon begin a new environmental analysis of the proposal by the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture in southwest Colorado.
Environmentalists dropped a lawsuit this year when the Forest Service agreed to redo the environmental impact statement for the proposed Wolf Creek Village.
The developers and managers of the ski area also settled lawsuits over the project in the Rio Grande National Forest.
Operators of the ski area, which is on national forest land, opposed the plans for the development on private property at the base of the ski slopes.
Texas billionaire Billy Joe “Red” McCombs wants to build 222,100 square feet of commercial space and enough housing for up to 10,500 people on 287.5. acres of land he owns.
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A lawsuit by Colorado Wild, the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council argued the Forest Service didn’t adequately analyze the potential impacts of the project when it approved construction of a new road for primary access to the site from U.S. 160 and an extension of a road from the ski area’s parking lots.
The groups also claimed the developer had undue influence on the process through lobbying of high-level federal officials and pressure on a consultant paid by the developer but directed to independently analyze the impacts of the roads.
The developer and Forest Service have disputed those claims.
The Forest Service, however, agreed in the out-of-court settlement to write the new environmental analysis in-house.
Forest Service spokesman Mike Blakeman said the new environmental impact statement will likely take 16 to 18 months.
He said the Forest Service hopes to start public meetings for input on the scope of the review in the second half of September.
“The question is not whether access will be provided, but rather where and how the access will occur,” said Dan Dallas, Rio Grande forest supervisor.
The Forest Service has said the law requires the federal government to provide access to private property surrounded by federal land.
The developer and area residents who support the ski village say it would generate badly needed jobs and revenue for a struggling part of the San Juan Mountains, about 230 miles southwest of Denver.
Opponents say it could degrade the environment and overtax schools and other services in Mineral County, home to fewer than 1,000 full-time residents.
In June, the Pitcher family, owners of the Wolf Creek ski area, and the developer settled their lawsuit.
The Pitchers were once partners in the proposed resort but said they dropped out of the project after objecting to its size and sued to clarify their obligation to McCombs.
McCombs said the Pitchers owed him at least $20 million for expenses resulting from their reneging on an agreement to extend the ski area’s road to his property.
A district court also voided the developer’s building permit granted by Mineral County.