Friday, October 5, 2012

Freedom to inform refused by the USDA Forest Service [updated!]

There it is.  

The Gag Order stands firm and I may not share excerpts from the revealing pages 50 and 51 "Highest and Best Use Analysis" section.

Read on for The Rest Of The Story. . .

{Before continuing I want to acknowledge that the officials of the Rio Grande National Forest have always treated me with utmost respect and helpfulness.  I have no complaint with them and understand that they must act within the mandates of the law - whether I, or they, agree with every letter or not.}

Yesterday, October 15th, Tom McClure (Acting Director of Physical Resources, whom I quote below) reached me by phone (after missing me last week).  

It appears my complaints had the sympathy of many within the agency, including his, and that it caused a bit of interdepartmental soul searching followed by a ruckus between foresters and appraisers.  The final outcome is that the paragraph from Item 6, which I quote below will no longer appear attached to FOIS released documents.  In the future information that is deemed confidential shall be redacted and that anyone receiving FOIA information will be free to share the information they acquire.
I thank the Forest Service personnel who went to bat on this issue.  

It once again underscores why I've learned to trust in the integrity of the frontline USFS personnel whom I have dealt with over the years.

 NOT TO SAY, that there aren't genuine issues with the VWC-DEIS appraisal.  

As Dan Randolph eloquently outlined in his October 10th Durango Herald article:

Back to my story...

A few weeks back I made a "Freedom of Information Request Act" request for the land appraisal that has been prepared for the VWC-DEIS authors.  This request was honored in that I was sent the documents.  {see: "VWC Land Exchange Real Estate Appraisal - p50 - Local Market Conditions" }

However, the document came with what amounts to a Gag Order.  I then tried to get clarification and requested permission to share information from pages 50 and 51.  Here is part of the text of that email:

Mr. McClure quoted from within Item 6 of the “Assumptions and Limiting Conditions”: 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Possession of this report or any copy does not carry with it the right of publication, nor may it be used for any other purpose than the stated intended use.  I acknowledge that all appraisal reports submitted to the Forest Service for review become the property of the United States of America, and may be used for any legal and proper purpose.”  
Mr. McClure goes on to state: “The review report incorporated, by reference, all assumptions and limiting conditions of the appraisal report.  Its further distribution is also restricted.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~   
I sincerely believe that during this VWC-DEIS comment period when a precious productive biological resource at the headwaters of the Rio Grande River is hanging in the balance. 
My intended use, that is, sharing quotes (from page 50 and 51); quotes that prove my claim of the profound financial unfeasibility of this project are a “legal and proper purpose” of the document I hold in my hands.  
Furthermore, when I FOIA’ed these documents I was clear that informing the public was my intended use for these documents. 
Therefore, I request clarification and permission to share some insightful quotes from page 50 and 51 of the VWC-EIS Appraisal Non-federal Land volume.  My request is limited to those two pages and I will not share any other information gleaned from this document.
Yesterday I received my answer:
As to the use of excerpts from pages 50 and 51 of the requested documents within your blog, I will reiterate that it is not our intent that these documents (including excerpts from pages 50 and 51) be published, in whole or in part and I caution your publication or posting of these documents on the web.  
If interested individuals request a copy of  the documents we provided to you in your FOIA request, please refer them to the Forest Service so we may track the volume of interest in the documents through our FOIA process. 
This will serve as the response to your question, {...}
Tom McClure
Acting Director
Physical Resources
Rocky Mountain Region
USDA Forest Service
303-275-5374 (office)


There it is.  

The Gag Order stands firm and I may not share excerpts from the revealing pages 50 and 51 "Highest and Best Use Analysis" section.

The reason I wanted to share this information is because it gives solid support to what everyone who is paying attention knows.  Namely, that the market for ski resort base villages is in the pits and will quite likely get worse before it gets better.  There is a glut of unsold units throughout Colorado, even though prices are dropping.   Furthermore, that given the tremendous costs of building road access and other necessary infrastructure the Village at Wolf Creek is financially unfeasible.

Will such sobering information make a difference?

Tragically, this entire Village at Wolf Creek verses Alberta Park watershed {to the Rio Grande River} drama seems to have evolves into a grudge match between a billionaire who refuses to take no for an answer and citizens trying to inject some common sense.  

It feels like it has become personal for the man and neither business reality, environmental reality, nor down stream stakeholders’ long term interests matter.  

Sadly, in our world money don’t talk it screams and even our Senator Udall, who of all politicians ought to know better, talks as though a few hundred temporary jobs on a futile destructive development is OK - if it will garner him support from a major money man; rather than sticking his neck out and trying to talk some sense into Mr. McCombs and convincing him of the virtues of returning that precious productive watershed* to a protected status.

So, in the end Mr. Red McCombs may well get his chance to bulldoze the intact {and irreparable} Albert Park watershed and show the locals where to stick it.  But, his victory will be everyone else’s loss.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

*This reminds me - the Appraisal refers to Alberta Park as a "vacant site" as though it isn't a vital functioning biologically productive unit doing great service for the Rio Grande River Basin.  

There is none so blind as those who refuse to see {or even look}.


  1. Wow. Alright. Emailing all reps today and I will file an FOIA for this document as well. Thanks for bringing this to light.

    You're right. It's about having his way, regardless of success or failure. It's all about being right. Sad.

  2. not "right"...
    ... just might


  3. Do we know how much money will come from taxpayers yet? I'm trying to track down this information after reading this;