Thursday, February 16, 2017

Village at Wolf Creek Lawsuit UPDATE, Rocky Mountain Wild

From: Chris Talbot-Heindl
Communications and Membership Manager

The Wolf Creek Case briefs are in!

At the start of this month, Rocky Mountain Wild submitted the Reply brief for the Wolf Creek case! Now we wait on Judge Matsch to make a decision. If we are successful, the lawsuit would reverse the 2015 decision by the Forest Service to approve a land exchange providing critical road access needed for the 8,000 person "village" on Wolf Creek Pass.

This case details how the Forest Service unlawfully limited the scope of the environmental analysis and used the process to benefit a private business over the good of the public. Despite the site of the proposed development being located in crucial habitat for the endangered Canada lynx, a wildlife corridor linking two major Wilderness areas, and containing rare fen wetlands, the Forest Service did not properly analyze protections or demand mitigation as part of the land transfer.

In a related Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case, Judge Martinez ruled that the Forest Service did not have to collect and disclose records in the possession of the contractors who prepared the environmental analysis underlying the Forest Service's land transfer decision. Although we already succeeded in obtaining thousands of government records in this case, the Court's decision on this issue insulated the private contractor records leaving unanswered questions as to whether or not the developer exerted undue influence over the private contractors and what information was before the contractors that didn't make it into analysis provided to the public. While the denial is troubling, we believe the merits case is still strong.

Additional information:
Press Release: "Final Arguments, Filings Against Massive Development at Wolf Creek in Judge's Hands"
Article in The Durango Herald"Future of Village at Wolf Creek awaits judge's decision"
Blog post about ski area character: "Glitz and Glamour at Wolf Creek?"
Blog post about Canada lynx: "The “Village” at Wolf Creek Pass – a disaster for the Endangered Species Act listed Canada lynx"
Thank you for supporting the fight to keep Wolf Creek Pass wild!

P.S. If you want to follow us on social media, we do have a Facebook page, which has up-to-date information from all Friends of Wolf Creek partners.
P.S.S. Consider making a donation to the Friends of Wolf Creek. Select "Friends of Wolf Creek" in the "Direct My Donation" drop-down.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Canada lynx factor in lawsuits over Village at Wolf Creek

On account of the Village at Wolf Creek development once again being engulf in a legal quagmire, (where the process grinds along at a glacial pace), it seems nothing has been happening.  

But, as Gail Binkly, editor of the Four Corners Free Press, reports in their October issue some significant things are happening.  

Since she's done such a clear job of explaining, I asked permission to reprint her article and she said sure.  I've added the highlights.  Not much to add, except for thank you Gail.

Cat fight: 
The threatened Canada lynx is a factor in lawsuits over the Village at Wolf Creek

The future of a seldom-seen feline and the fate of a luxury development on Wolf Creek Pass, seemingly distinct issues, are inextricably entangled.

The status of the shy, snow-loving Canada lynx, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, influences discussions about the proposed resort, while the final decision about the project – whenever it comes – will certainly impact the animal.

The lynx, a threatened species,
is a factor in discussions about the controversial 
Village at Wolf Creek proposal in Colorado’s southern San Juan Mountains.
photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

A recent court decision has complicated the picture. On Sept. 7, a U.S. District Court in Montana ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had wrongly decided not to include southern Colorado when it designated critical habitat for the rare animal. 

In a lawsuit brought by five environmental nonprofits including WildEarth Guardians, Chief District Judge Dana L. Christensen ordered the service to reconsider its “final rule” regarding lynx habitat, issued two years previously.

Court proceedings are also a big part of the picture regarding the “Village at Wolf Creek,” a Texas billionaire’s proposed development high on the snowy pass, south of U.S. Highway 160. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

J.Paul Brown lies about serious climate science (dist.59)

I want to share a letter than appeared in this past week's Durango Telegraph.  Since a new issue is coming out today, I figure I'll give Peter Veals' (climate scientist) Letter to the Editor at the Durango Telegraph a little more exposure.  It's worth reading and considering.  I follow with links to authoritative resources 

Mr. Brown is a perfect example of the old school that believes faith is more important than facts and that experts can be disregarded because his ego makes him believe he's smarter than actual trained, experienced experts.  And why are people wanting to re-elect this man?  

J. Paul’s ill-informed science
August 4, 2016  |  Durango Telegraph
To the editor,
J. Paul Brown’s remarks to the State Legislature (as reported by the Herald, May 4, 2016) regarding human-caused climate change reveal him to be an ill-informed and irresponsible representative of Southwest Colorado.
Scientists and their work published in peer-reviewed scientific journals are the bedrock upon which mankind’s incredible achievements have been built. The polio vaccine, chemotherapy, the fact that the earth orbits the sun, semiconductor chips, GPS satellites … almost no one questions these discoveries made by the scientific community. Why? Probably because most of these things are immediately tangible: your phone and computer with semiconductor chips do amazing things before your eyes. It is easy to say “my pastures don’t look any different” and think that the global climate isn’t being affected by greenhouse gas emissions.
But science tells us that, undeniably, CO2 is what re-radiates the sun’s energy back toward the Earth’s surface, keeping our planet warm. Science tells us that burning fossil fuels produces CO2, and that we produce over 20 billion tons of CO2 per year by burning them. The vast majority of Earth’s glaciers are shrinking, high-temperature records are being broken at double the rate of low temperature records, and the Arctic sea ice continues to shrink nearly every year. Science tells us that when the long-term weather stations around the world are averaged, 2014 was the warmest year since records have been kept. And then 2015 shattered that record to become the warmest.
But it is difficult for someone like Brown to understand these facts because it still snows on his pastures every winter. That’s why he should leave the science to the professionals; 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change. Instead of turning to farcical sources that recirculate the same, paid nonexperts and debunked claims to “refute” climate science, J. Paul Brown should examine some legitimate scientific literature and consider the future of our corner of the state.
Peter Veals, atmospheric scientist, Ph.D candidate, University of Utah, DHS Class of 2007

The evidence for rapid manmade climate change is compelling:

Climate change: How do we know?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

FERC ruling and LPEA/Tri-State Waiver_by T. Chamberlin

Here's an addition to my previous posts looking at the negotiation waiver that Tri-State wants LPEA (and all their other electrical coops) to sign. This is a Repost of a Durango Telegraph article written by Tracy Chamberlin this past June and it provides some good background information.  

At the July Board of Directors meeting it was decided not to reject the Tri-State waiver, instead they will continue tabling Resolution 2017-07 until the dispute between Delta Montrose Electric Association and Tri-State G&T settles down.  It appears Tri-State has filed an appeal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision discussed in this article - meaning it's still a very dynamic situation.  

Seems to me so much more reason for stakeholders to take an active interest and help LPEA define their approach to an energy future that promises many challenges.  I thank Missy Votel for permission to reprint this article in its entirety.

In wake of recent ruling, LPEA to advise against controversial waiver

by Tracy Chamberlin | June 23, 2016 | Durango Telegraph

Under its contract with Tri-State, LPEA has to buy 95 percent of its power from the wholesaler. The other 5 percent can be purchased from outside sources, like small renewable projects. At just over 4.5 percent already, the local co-op has little wiggle room. / Durango Telegraph file photo

Even though they were waiting for it, they never saw it coming. One day after La Plata Electric Association’s Board of Directors took the wait-and-see approach on a controversial waiver issue, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced a decision that completely changed the game.

LPEA Chief Executive Officer Michael Dreyspring called the commission’s decision unprecedented. One that will affect power companies and co-ops across Colorado, New Mexico and, eventually, the nation. “It’s a very significant ruling,” he said.

It all began last year when Delta-Montrose Energy Association, a regional electric co-op like LPEA, was approached by a small hydroelectric power producer.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

State Rep. J Paul Brown this is 2016.

I received the following and can't resist passing it along.  It underscores the general disconnect Republicans have achieved with the living reality of our world here in 2016.  
Of course, given the mess after decades worth of right-wing Reaganomics stewardship 
and its many decidedly counter-productive outcomes, 
it's no wonder many try to hide and dream of better days.

Dear Peter,

The GOP hasn't exactly been subtle about their desire to return to their idealized version of America in the 1950's, but this mailer that just landed in Durango really takes things to a new level:


This was actually sent out in support of Rep. J. Paul Brown, an extremist legislator who would fit in better in a Mad Men world than in modern Colorado. 

Brown deserves every bit of 50's nostalgia that accompanies that mail piece. He has consistently voted to gut environmental protections, prevent a woman's right to choose, and to put corporations ahead of Colorado families. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

July 2016 Update - Village at Wolf Creek lawsuit

The short version, the wheels of justice grind ever so slowly, but on they grind.  I'll let Chris Talbot-Heindl fill you in on the details:

By: Chris Talbot-Heindl, Communications & Membership Manager, Rocky Mountain Wild
July 12, 2016

Last Friday, during a motions hearing on the Wolf Creek case, Friends of Wolf Creek asked Federal Judge Richard Matsch to compel the Forest Service to obtain and disclose records and billing statements from the contractors who prepared the environmental analysis. Friends of Wolf Creek also requested the confidential settlement agreement between the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture and the Wolf Creek Ski Area, which involved the challenged land exchange.

One of our lawyers for the case, Travis Stills, explained that the documents “we’ve received piece meal over the last two years paint an incomplete picture and our hope is that the requested documents would fill in the gaps.”

While Judge Matsch denied parts of the Motion to Compel dealing with the contractor records and billing statements, he stated that the contractor records could still be obtained through our ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case. The Judge added that if our FOIA case did result in the release of the contractor records, those documents could be added to the merits case at a later time.

“We believe the contractor records contain a missing piece to this puzzle and are hopeful we will have the opportunity to review that information through our ongoing FOIA litigation” stated Matt Sandler, Staff Attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild, “that said, we already have strong evidence to support our case and look forward to presenting that to the Court.”

Judge Matsch was particularly interested in the content of the confidential settlement agreement. The lawyer representing the Ski Area stated that the information contained in the settlement agreement is sensitive but did not provide insight into the relevancy to the litigation. Judge Matsch ordered the Department of Justice attorney for the Forest Service to review the document and determine the relevance of the information and report back to the Court.

Regarding the timeline of the merits case, Judge Matsch ordered that all parties should work together to complete the Administrative Record and determine a timeline for addressing the merits of the case. He ordered that the case start with the record as it stands now, supplemented with relevant parts of the secret settlement agreement and other documents that have already been identified. “Get the guts of the case before me,” he said.

The merits case asserts numerous violations of federal environmental laws, including the claims that the Forest Service unnecessarily limited the scope of its environmental analysis on a land exchange with the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture to avoid fully analyzing the impacts that the proposed development of a 8,000 person “village” would have on the Rio Grande National Forest and sensitive wildlife, including the Canada lynx.


In March 2016, we filed a motion in the U.S. District Court to have records in the possession of the contractors that the Forest Service hired to prepare the environmental analysis of the land exchange disclosed and potentially added to the Administrative Record. While these records legally belong to the Forest Service, they have refused to ask the contractors to supply all of them. The attorneys for the Forest Service and the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture responded to the court arguing that the Administrative Record was complete without these additional records. In the first week of May, we filed a 23-page Reply brief, and now we are awaiting the Court's decision. Full copies of our Brief, the defendant's Responses, and our Reply brief can be found here:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Reflecting on June 2016 LPEA Board of Directors Tri-State renewable energy stance

Encouraging co-ops to look to renewables

Peter Miesler
Four Corners Free Press
July 2016 | page 20
{My previous post provides an introduction and the background for this FCFP column}

It started with an email that read: La Plate Electric Association’s board of directors is meeting on June 15 to consider a blanket waiver giving Tri-State Generation and Transmission, our power provider, the right to be the primary negotiator of ALL our renewable energy projects going forward. Given Tri-State’s reliance on coal, given how it is stonewalling affordable solar and other renewables …”

The email’s plea was simple, if you care about developing renewable energy, get informed, write the LPEA's BoD, and attend the upcoming June Board of Directors meeting at 9AM for your short opportunity to speak and share concerns.

My curiosity roused, I started ‘googling’ and reading related articles that pieced together an interesting regional story worth sharing. To understand what happened at LPEA this past month, you need to go back to the 1978 passage of PURPA (Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act) which mandated electrical co-ops such as LPEA start purchasing some of their power from renewable energy sources.