Thursday, June 4, 2015

Short history of the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture - Village at Wolf Creek. part one

I'll begin with Christine Canaly of the San Luis Valley Ecosystems Counsel responding to some questions I asked her. Followed by a timeline of highlights going back to 1986 and the original land trade.  Followed by the first segment of a history lesson Ryan Bidwell gave back in 2009.
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Could you describe the Friends of Wolf Creek's position on development at Alberta Park?

Why are these environmental organizations joining forces to sue the USDA Forest Service?
What are they asking for?

Can you shed light on rumors of other land-trade offers being floated?  Namely offering Mr. McCombs and LMJV a comparable parcel of developable land at lower elevation and closer to existing infrastructure?

In terms of your questions: 
1. The lawsuits we have filed and the one we are preparing for is based on NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act). 
NEPA analysis is based on process analysis, that is our strongest leverage at this time, because we believe that "the process" has been violated. 
Having said that, we are taking this to Federal District Court so we need substantive arguments regarding policy, law CEQ's etc., being violated during the NEPA process. 
2. The one question we have not had answered and the Forest Service has avoided it, is how many units can that area actually handle?
What size of development, if any, is the "appropriate size" for that area?
3. Not only has the question never been answered, but the Forest Service (FS) continues to take the stand that "this is not within our scope of analysis." 
Within Forest Service scope of analysis, which they purposely narrowed to "road access" to avoid having to do real analysis of impacts, FS is basically side stepping this big question by saying "this is a private property rights issue and needs to be settled though the PUD process in Mineral County". 
4. So, you see what keeps happening, the developers pressure the Forest Service to maintain the narrow scope of analysis because the developers don't want to know what the proper number of units would be, if any. I'm sure they see it as "not good" for marketing this "VWC" vision, in their opinion. 
5. To answer your question about the Environmental organizations and our position, the reality is, "since there has never been proper analysis done on impacts to determine what that area could possibly handle, we have to take the position that we don't know the answer, since that analysis has not been done." 
6. Yes, we too have researched the idea of having the development closer to existing infrastructure, but Red McCombs insists on doing it next to the Ski Area.
All other, more reasonable concepts are non-negotiable while he is making the decisions.  
I hope this background was useful.
Christine Canaly 

1986 – Original Land Exchange
  1.  Forest Service Environmental Assessment anticipated 200 residential units 
  2.  Deemed “Not in the Public Interest”, denied Feb. 20, 1986 
  3.  Opposite decision issued March 6, 1986 
  4.  Scenic Easement attached to the property as condition of exchange 
1999 – Wolf Creek Ski Area Alberta Lift and Parking Lot Approval
  1.  Lift and parking lot approved by Forest Service in 1999 
  2.  Decision subject to administrative appeal by Colorado Wild summer 1999 
  3.  Appeal settlement agreement: EIS required prior to “commercial” access 
2000 – Mineral County Preliminary Approval
  1.  2,172 units, 222k sq.ft. commercial, 4267 parking spaces, 12 restaurants, hotels, etc. 
  2.  Massive project proposal raises serious concerns: water quality, water quantity, wetlands, 
    traffic, wildlife, economic impacts to existing businesses, employee housing, emergency 
    services, fiscal impacts to Rio Grande and Archuleta County governments, etc. 
2001; 2002 – Attempts to Circumvent Public Review Requirements to Obtain Access
  1.  Lobbied to have Mark Rey appointed to head US Forest Service. 
  2.  Riders to unrelated legislation introduced by Congressman Tom Delay to grant access to Village 
    without public review or scrutiny of project’s impacts. 
2004 – Mineral County Final Approval
  1.  Documents show McCombs was writing Mineral County Land Use Code 
  2.  Oct 2005 – State District Judge Kuenhold throws out Mineral County’s development approval. 
  3.  Sept 2006 – State Court of Appeals affirms Kuenhold, Village Plan illegal for lack of access. 
2004 - 2006 – McCombs Undertakes Illegal EIS Process
  1.  90%+ of 3,000 Public Comments Opposed to Village Access 
  2.  Sept 2005 – Documents show developer/Forest Service collusion, including developer authoring 
    Forest Service access policies 
  3.  March 2006 – Colorado Wild uncovers developer’s influence over Forest Service EIS contractor 
  4.  April 2006 – Forest Service Grants Access based on “Bogus” EIS 
  5.  September 2006 – Colorado Wild sues Forest Service over faulty EIS 
  6.  February 2008 – Colorado Wild, Forest Service, McCombs settle lawsuit and agree to conduct 
    new and complete EIS before granting access. 
2008 – New Easements on McCombs Property Undermine 2000/2004 Land Use Approval
Easements apparently stem from Wolf Creek Ski Area/McCombs lawsuit settlement
  1. 2008  – Forest Service begins, and then stops new EIS process based on original plan. 
  2. 2009  – McCombs hires democratic lobbyist Michael Dino, Clint Jones to pursue legislative land exchange. 
2010—Representative Salazar encourages Mr. McCombs to undertake a thorough Environmental

Impact Statement (EIS) through the U.S. Forest Service.     
Mr. McCombs takes the advice of Congressman Salazar and applies for a land exchange from the Rio Grande National Forest through the Forest Service administrative review process.

2012—US Forest Service releases Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) analyzing the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture (LMJV) land exchange, which seeks to provide access for building the “Village at Wolf Creek” project.
Public comments were accepted on the DEIS through October 16; more than 900 comments received.

2013—US Forest Service is now in the process of reviewing public comments and is expected to issue a final decision in late 2013 or early 

2014 . . .

(It turned out to be released just before the Thanksgiving Day holiday with the comment period conveniently ending just after the New Year's Day 2015 holiday.)

Forest Service paves the way for Pillage at Wolf Creek

Forest Service ignores objections to land exchange at Wolf Creek Pass


Ryan Bidwell, then Executive Director of Colorado Wild, reviews Village at Wolf Creek's first Environmental Impact Study - 2009

Ryan Bidwell, Executive Director of Colorado Wild, provides his group's position on the proposed Village at Wolf Creek.  The talk was at the Riverwalk Cafe, in downtown Pagosa Springs, during business hours, so please excuse the side noise and cell phones.  Fortunately Ryan is a good speaker so he's easy to follow.

These videos were filmed and uploaded onto YouTube by D. West Davies,  Oct 22, 2009
I tip of my hat to West for his efforts and for his encouragement.
I have added rough notes to give an outline of what each segment contains.

If you're new to the Village at Wolf Creek preservation struggle and trying to figure out just what's going on, this talk offers some valuable background.  It was given not long after LMJV's unveiled his nifty new land swap offer that would get him right next to the highway.   

Wolf Creek Village Presentation 
by Ryan Bidwell from Colorado Wild, 2009  - Part 1/9 

Notes of the talk:

1986 the year Rio Grande National Forest succumbed to a hostile takeover of 300 acres of Alberta Park.

They wanted 420 acres with highway frontage.

0:45 "National Forest did Environmental Assessment, invited public comment...
Feb 20 1986 decision to deny LMJV proposed land exchange because it wasn't in the publics interest to take 1,200 grazing habitat scattered in little parcels around Saguache County and swap it for 420 acres of Federal land at the base of a ski area.  

They didn't think the values weren't right.  They thought it was inappropriate to break up a landscape that was entirely public to create a chunk of private land right in the middle of it.  It was inconsistent with Forest Service policy. ..."

1:45  "Two weeks later in March 6, 1986 the Forest Service issued the exact opposite decision.  During that period of time some conversations transpired that there's no documentation of, so no one really knows what happened during those two weeks."

Exchange was approved but the parcel shrunk from 420 to 320 acres, moved away from highway out of Wolf Creek Ski Area's base-area and the RGFS attached a Scenic Easement.

The Scenic Easement clearly set's this land apart from a regular private parcel.

Nothing much happen until 1999, with ski area parking lot enlargement and Alberta ski lift being installed...

5:30  What was going on at that time was that Mr. McCombs was trying to acquire access to his piece of property, year-round access to his property without going through the public process to consider the impacts of that ...
... without having to seek all the approvals that would be necessary...

2000  Began the land approval process through Mineral County...

7:00  Some details of a project of that size that must be evaluated...

8:15  Mr. McCombs trying to circumvent review the government review process by getting Texas Congressman Tom Delay to attach rides on to other bills being shepherded through the legislature.  Fortunately, a number of member of the Colorado delegation though that inappropriate and rallied the defeat of Delay's measures.

end of 2003 the first Environmental Impact Study was agreed to.

For the rest of Ryan's talk visit: 

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