Thursday, September 13, 2012

An essay concerning Red McCombs' long and winding road

“You believe what you believe, I believe what I believe and we will never convince each other period!

Those were the sage words of Clint Jones, the developer for Red McCombs’ speculative luxury Village at Wolf Creek when we spoke at last month’s Del Norte open house for the Land Exchange Proposal’s Environmental Impact Statement.

What a chilling attitude. It implies the impossibly of learning anything new. It also explains how the 1980s dream of a billionaire could get hardened into an obsession no matter how the winds of time have changed the physical and financial landscape.

A dream that started in those halcyon 80s when Red partnered with Charles Leavell owner of property the Rio Grande National Forest coveted. With that temptation and announced plans for a low key development of perhaps 200 homes a land trade for nearly 300 acres of Alberta Park was arranged.

Then Charles Leavell passed away and McCombs hired developer Bob Honts who announced a plan ten times that size. This at over 10,300 feet elevation where the air we breath contains 70% the oxygen it does at sea level. Incidentally, it is one thing to spend your days playing up there; but to play up there all day and then spend all your nights at those elevations sets up people for a variety of altitude related health issues.

In his zeal Bob Honts crossed various ethical and legal boundaries. Worse, he got caught, scuttling Red’s first drive to develop Alberta Park some twenty years after his speculative adventure began. It also ended his association with Honts. There’s too much to tell here, but Mike Soraghan of the Denver Post wrote a most informative article “Wolf Creek development tangled with political ties” (2/5/06).

Given a development of a couple hundred homes the Forest Service was under the impression that road access issues could be resolved. But, a village for ten thousand people blindsided officials and created a whole new set of complications, since the US Forest Service has every desire of keeping the only access road, FSR391, a seasonal light traffic dirt road.

In time, McCombs’ lawyers found the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. The property owner’s road access provisions in this Act were codified because huge expanses of Alaskan land was being acquired and placed into the National Trust. This left many private land owners surrounded by Federal lands. This law ensured them road access rights to their newly landlocked property. What is striking is that McCombs traded into his “landlocked” situation.

But, because he is a billionaire, Red can force his will. Now the US Forest Service is in a position of thinking they owe McCombs a high volume all-year road or they owe him damages. This doesn’t make any sense considering that Red knew exactly what he was buying. Still, his demand is: either a high traffic all year road or we owe him big. 

In this case big being a swap of 178 acres of land for 204 acres of prime grade A US Highway accessible real estate. 

Incomprehensible though it seems, this is exactly the rationale driving this current pro-development Environmental Impact Statement and potential land swap. An Environmental Impact Statement that remains blind to the many cascading damages that bulldozing of this watershed will inflict. 

During my discussion with Mr. Jones at the Del Norte open house, I asked Clint: what about the changing world, both business and environmental, that are making this 1980s dream look increasingly financially hopeless? “None of us can predict the future” was his easy salesman’s reply.

I asked, what about Climate Change and scientist’s projections that current drought conditions are a sign of more to come; or the bark beetle epidemic that’s ravaging those mountains and is spreading right into Alberta Park as we spoke? Is it really that hard to predict prospective million dollar home buyers will be turned off by a standing dead forest? 

“None of us can predict the future” seems a feeble response when it comes to the importance of an unmolested watershed for downstream stakeholders. After all, we are discussing the health of source waters for the Rio Grande River Basin during increasingly difficult times.

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Commenting on This Project
The Forest Service values public input. Comments received, including respondents’ names and addresses, will become part of the public record for this proposed action. Comments submitted anonymously will be accepted and considered; however, anonymous comments will not provide the agency with the ability to provide you with project updates. The Forest Service wishes to provide you with as many opportunities as possible to learn about our activities.

Official Deadline for comments: 9/30/2012. (or is that Friday the 28th, or Monday the 1st?)


  1. Pretty much threw up in my mouth reading this. So typical of the uber-rich to scoff at reality when there's money to be made.

    Nobody can predict the future... Well, climate change aside I think we can all predict that we're on the edge of losing a valuable place in the U.S.

    ...Still holding out hope...

    1. Could not have said it better. You know there an old saying "men think with the "d..ks"" not with their brains. But these men are not thinking at all they are sitting on their brains which in in their asses. We have to keep the pressusre on. Simple as that. We cannot give. up this is way too important. Let our voices be heard.

  2. Great essay. You should have a good career as a fiction writer. Something for children perhaps. Sorry "The big bad wolf" and "Little Red Riding Hood" have already been taken,

    1. the rich trying to get richer on the backs of the little guys!!! We must pressure the Forest Service to not give these people our good land for crap!!!. McCombs knew what he was getting into or those working for him had to have known. Keep the pressure on loud and even louder. We stand with you.

    2. What world are you living in Mr. October Anonymous?

      I notice you don't offer any specifics... I got the feeling you just didn't like what you read, so you assumed a quick insult would make it right?

      The sad saga of Mr. McCombs 1980s dream and the fruits of his decades worth of less than honorable actions... and all he has to show for it is lots of money squandered and bad feelings all around. The facts speak for themselves.

      Calling that fiction only reflects on your unfamiliarity with what you are talking about.