Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Village at Wolf Creek, It’s A Scandal

Let me tell you a story about a man named Red. It was back in the 80’s, he purchased some private land within the Saguache Ranger District of the Rio Grande National Forest. It was nice land; land the Forest Service had been eyeing for some time and Red had a plan.

With those chips in hand Red saddled up to the public lands real estate table, proposing to trade his coveted Saguache District chips for an incredible parcel smack in the middle of the high country and Rio Grande National Forest.  Not just any land, but an amazing water shed that captures and filters some of the greatest snow all in the 48 States.  In 1986 after due process Red’s’ proposal was rejected by RGNF officials.  … but, …
RGNF sent the official rejection papers to the Reagan era US Department of Agriculture, where the trade was miraculously reborn then returned to RGNF marked ‘land trade accepted’ and Mr. Red McCombs received Title.
Amazingly RGNF officials are unable to produce a record of how that reversal actually occurred. Unfortunately, since it’s past the statute of limitations, no one seems interested in learning about it.
Well I am, so March 15th I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the paper trail of what transpired between the RGNF’s rejection and McCombs receiving Title.

In those early days McCombs spoke of a low key development, 200 housing units in harmony with the unique nearby Wolf Creek Ski Area. That changed when Bob Honts, Red’s partner, unveiled plans for a luxury vacation village of ten thousand people.

The problem was (actually, only one of many), the parcel is landlocked with one seasonal dirt road as access, and it crosses National Forest land. McCombs spent a decade trying to gain access; but caught in shady backroom dealings, losing a significant court battle, then settling out of court on another, he found himself back at first base with nothing to show but intentions.

Ever resourceful, McCombs wants a new land: 204 acres with highway frontage for 178 acres of his next to impossible to develop land. First he tried to enlist our local Congressman to bypass U.S. Forest Service “red tape” - that plan sputtered for a while then died.

Now Red has settled for traditional RGNF channels, which require an Environmental Impact Study. Begun in the spring of 2011, officials hoped the preliminary draft would be released by late December or January. Now, we’re nearly to April and the Forest Service continues to be vague on a release date.

What's going on here?
Has McCombs and his team realized that their village is a lost cause? Are they scrambling? Perhaps considering an exit strategy? Acquire highway frontage, genuine real-estate gold, sell to the highest bidder, then git outta Dodge?

Good poker move, and even Forest Service officials acknowledge McCombs would be fully within his rights to pursue such a strategy.

But, what about Alberta Park or that Rio Grande River watershed? What about the wildlife that’s being corned into smaller and smaller patches of land? What about the coming drying of the Southwest? Isn't Alberta Park a productive valuable biological resource as it is?

What about the public’s interests? Is all of this nothing more than a real estate poker game for a politician owning billionaire? Who knows? The cynic would say damned straight it is. The optimist would say the Forest Service listens to our concerns and has the public interest at heart. We will see.

Now, here’s the important part, we are arriving at a critical crossroad. When the RGNF releases their preliminary draft EIS, there will be a short comment period. We The People will be legal participants in advising the Rio Grande National Forest decision makers. After years of being confined to spectator status, we get to speak up and the powers-that-be must listen to rational presentations of the dangers and arguments for why McCombs landswap needs to be refused outright.

Alberta Park is a piece of biosphere; it can’t defend itself. It needs concerned citizens who, depending upon their own expertise, can do a little research. Become informed, then send some rational, polite letters to the Rio Grande National Forest decision makers explaining why McCombs’ trade proposal should be rejected outright and why a way should be found to revert Alberta Park back to a protected resource for the needs of future generations.

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For the upshot of my FOIA request see:

SUNDAY, MAY 6, 2012

FOIA RESULTS = USDA Forest Service: Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact {3/6/86}

The following is a faithful reproduction {though it may contain typos.} of the pdf I was sent by the RGNF,  when they replied to my FOIA request.

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 For more information visit the Rio Grand National Forest webpage
"Village at Wolf Creek Land Exchange Proposal"  ~

Comments to the draft EIS will be processed through: 

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