Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Village at Wolf Creek EIS Administrative Objection

For your information here's the introduction to the Objection filed against the Rio Grande National Forest's decision to go ahead with the LMJV land swap proposal. It was filed by a coalition of: 

Rocky Mountain Wild, 
San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, 
San Juan Citizens Alliance, 
Defenders of Wildlife, 
Wilderness Workshop, 
Colorado Mountain Club, 
Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and 
Rocky Mountain Recreation Initiative. 

Pre-Decisional Administrative Objection
RE: The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Village at Wolf Creek Access Project and Draft Record of Decision
{I've added the highlights}


This objection is submitted by Rocky Mountain Wild, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, Wilderness Workshop, Colorado Mountain Club, EcoFlight, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and Rocky Mountain Recreation Initiative.

Objectors request that the Forest Service Reviewing Officer invalidate the Environmental Impact Statement and, if the project is to proceed, issue a new scoping notice to begin anew the National Environmental Policy Act Process based on consideration of the full project proposed by Levell-McCombs Joint Venture’s (LMJV)
construction of a resort city known as the Village at Wolf Creek at the top of Wolf Creek Pass. An independent reviewing officer must be carefully chosen to handle this matter, as LMJV and its agents have conducted extensive lobbying efforts over the past thirty years at all levels of the Forest Service and within the USDA, particularly previous leadership and staff within the office of the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment and current staff within the USDA Office of General Counsel.

The LMJV project is within the National Forest System on a federally encumbered inholding created “to allow for the development of the lands by the proponent for uses compatible to the existing Wolf Creek Ski Area.” Draft ROD at 9. This Objection addresses issues raised by these organizations and their members, and in some instances, issues that have emerged through events occurring after the DEIS was issued or revealed through the limited subset of agency records released by the Forest Service in ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Objectors reserve the right to supplement these objections based on agency records unlawfully withheld by the Forest Service in pending FOIA requests.

The Wolf Creek Ski Area (WCSA) sits in the middle of a unique and important natural area of the National Forest System and next to the Wolf Creek Ski Area (WCSA). Although WCSA does have impacts to the Forest Service lands subject to a special use permit, the limited development associated with the developed recreational use allows the ski area to coexist with the wildlife, scenery, unique recreation, and important values of the area. 

An 1171-unit city of 10,000 people will upset the fragile balance the Forest Service has struck in managing the WCSA. In 1986, the Forest Service correctly concluded that transfer of public land with limited access to support a much smaller development was not in the public interest. The current project proposal, construction of a small city known as the Village at Wolf Creek that will require a grade-separated interchange to access U.S. Highway 160, does not serve the public interest in maintaining the status quo of the relatively undeveloped and natural character of the WCSA and surrounding National Forest.

These objections address the failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) purposes that are implemented by specific procedures designed to minimize and eliminate environmental impacts.
The centerpiece of environmental regulation in the United States, NEPA requires federal agencies to pause before committing resources to a project and consider the likely environmental impacts of the preferred course of action as well as reasonable alternatives. See 42 U.S.C. § 4331(b) (congressional declaration of national environmental policy).
N.M. ex rel. Richardson v. BLM, 565 F.3d 683, 703 (10th Cir. 2009). The real project here is LMJV’s plan to construct and operate the proposed Village at Wolf Creek. The question of access to U.S. Highway 160 via federal land is a mere segment of the real project proposal.

The objections set forth the reasons the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) is deficient and why the Forest Service cannot adopt the Draft Record of Decision (DROD) that would grant access and other interest in federal lands to support construction of a project involving a small city of part time resort dwellings. Contrary to the LMJV-influenced NEPA document, the proposed project subject to NEPA analysis remains the same as it was in March 1986: “development of the lands by the proponent for uses compatible to the existing Wolf Creek Ski Area.” Draft ROD at 9. 

The FEIS wrongly excludes the LMJV development from rigorous analysis, a legal error that narrows the scope of analysis and taints the entire NEPA process. Extensive and direct LMJV influence over the NEPA analysis has led to the repetition of the same issues that plagued the last NEPA analysis, with the same difficult questions being swept under the rug without full disclosure and consideration. Colorado Wild, Inc. v. United States Forest Service, 523 F. Supp. 2d 1213, (D. Colo. 2007).

By limiting the scope of issues and alternatives under the review, the FEIS presents the public and decision makers with a seemingly foregone conclusion on the land exchange proposal. Where the FEIS minimizes the true scope of federal control and authority over all aspects of the Village at Wolf Creek, the public and relevant agency officials are presented with the false impression that the private developer can go forward with development without full NEPA analysis of the federally encumbered private lands. The attempt to manipulate the parcels and eliminate a federal nexus and NEPA review of the development via a land exchange is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.

As set out below, and in the partial record the Forest Service has disclosed to Objectors, NEPA requires that the Forest Service begin anew by conducting scoping on a new EIS that analyzes the entire development proposal, alternatives, impacts, and mitigation measures in a single EIS. NEPA requires that an EIS must be prepared before committing resources to the LMJV proposal in the form of expanded access, easements, and approvals that ignore and sometimes eliminate important and valuable federal interests in the private lands. 

Then it get's into the details:

Matt Sandler, Attorney, Rocky Mountain Wild, 

Christine Canaly. Director SLVEC, 719-589-1518

Jimbo Buickerood, San Juan Citizens Alliance 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Then there's this...

Regional Policy on the Protection of Fens, resource category 1 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Region 6 | Amended January 20, 1999  
From page two:  
"Because of their uniqueness and importance, Region 6 decided that all its functioning fens, which were identified on U.S. Geological Survey, National Wetlands Inventory, ... fall within Resource Category 1 of the Service's "Mitigation Policy" (Federal Register Vol.16, No.15, February4, 1981).   
The mitigation goal for Resource Category 1 is no loss of existing habitat value.  In other words, because of the irreplaceability of the type habitat, every reasonable effort should be made to avoid impacting that habitat type."

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