Thursday, June 4, 2015

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

Ryan Bidwell, then Executive Director of Colorado Wild reviews the 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.

Wolf Creek Village Presentation by Ryan Bidwell from Colorado Wild, 2009 - Part 2/9

Forest Service hires out the Environmental Impact Study
Forest Service ignoring impacts
Developer influences what impacts to ignore
McCombs team actually writing portions of the report.
McCombs' agent Bob Honts unfairly manipulating the EIS team by 

1:15  "withholding payments from each and every chapter of the document of a 600 page document until it said the things that they wanted it to say. ..."

1:50  "So we ended up with a 600 page document that analyzed 250 feet of road and ignored where the road started and ignored where the road went. ..."

4:25  "Mr. Honts wasn't very happy with the direction that the EIS was heading based on the Forest Service direction.  So he took it upon himself to try to negotiate with the contractor directly to try to influence the (scope and) outcome of the analysis. ..."

2006 Colorado Wild sues.

Wolf Creek Village Presentation by Ryan Bidwell from Colorado Wild, 2009 - Part 3/9

0:10  In this case Mr. Honts renegotiated the payment plan with (? kesh tech) Forest Service did not object to that, which was unfortunate. ...

(Forest Service did not object to the developer Bob Honts taking EIS earmarked money out of the established escrow account and henceforth directly paying the EIS team himself.  Setting the stage for Mr. Hont's approving the 'product' before offering payment.)

So the process got botched and their product got botched and we ended up with an analysis that didn't really say anything. ... none of the important questions were addressed.

1:30  Colorado Wild filed a lawsuit.  The court issued an injunction agreeing with Colorado Wild that the analysis was flawed. ...

Suit filed - Forest Service and McCombs settles out of court, agreeing to redo the EIS


Address some misconceptions about Colorado Wild's position... 

3:40  "What we've had a problem with all along is the developer's attempts time and time again; behind closed doors at Wolf Creek Ski Area; through Congressman Tom Delay's efforts, to paying off a private contractor; to try keep all those (legitimate) issues off the table ... we'll deal with this stuff later...  the process has always been botched ...

Contractor wants agreement first and process analysis after the fact.

4:55  -  Developer's attitude(referring to the Clint Jones who replaced the disgraced Bob Honts.) "We're still in the same process of - 'Here's our grand idea, lets approve it first, then we'll do the analysis second.'  What we've (Friends of Wolf Creek) been asking for all along, and frankly what the law requires is that you do the analysis up front, then you make the decision once you actually know something about what the impacts are going to be.  ..."

Wolf Creek Village Presentation by Ryan Bidwell from Colorado Wild, 2009 - Part 4/9

Mineral County said the Forest Service is going to decide if the development has enough water, and Forest Service said no it's not our responsibility ...

3:00  What's different about this property that places a higher standard on what the Forest Service's responsibility is because of the fact that the Forest Service owns the Scenic Easement, and that Easement gives the Forest Service specific responsibility to approve what occurs ... it includes restrictions on industrial facilities, storage of certain types of materials, as well as specific authorization requirements regarding the development itself...

Forest Service has specific responsibilities over this unique property arrangement.

For the rest of the videos link to YouTube.

Wolf Creek Village Presentation by Ryan Bidwell from Colorado Wild, 2009 - Part 5/9

Issues regarding access to the (original) property

Talk about what could be developed after various agreement with ski area...
(All that is mute given the land swap had been approved.)

5:15  comment from audience:  "I think a little historical note, in 1986 when this original deal happened Reagan was the President.  In 1986 I worked for HUD and we were under extreme pressure to approve a deal in Utah.  Which the staff didn't want to approve and the regional administrator kept having meetings.  But no one had the courage to override the GS13's and twelves that were in charge of the actual EIS and other stuff, so I can see why the original trade took place.  ..."

Wolf Creek Village Presentation by Ryan Bidwell from Colorado Wild, 2009 - Part 6/9

0:10  The wetlands on McCombs property are called a Fens wetlands, they are not fed by surface water, they are fed by ground water, because of that they have different chemistry, because of soil and end up really acidic.  So they support a whole bunch of different types of plants that are kind of rare.  

(there's much more to Fens wetlands than he had time for: 
Appreciating Wolf Creek's ‘old-growth’ fens. Part one
Appreciating Fens Part 2. USFWS Category 1 Resource (highest protection rating)

There are different standards for wetlands development process that apply to Fen wetlands

1:50  proposing a different kind of land exchange
"let's fix the error that was made in 1986, give this property back to the Forest Service and give Mr. McCombs something closer to a community, where there's existing infrastructure, existing roads not building at 10,500 feet and he can build a development ... but Mr. McCombs hasn't been interested in that...

Fens and federal protection...

4:00  (Forgetting that developing a couple hundred yards over and uphill will also disrupt the fens and wildlife corridor!)

6:20  (Then there was the end-run) proposal to have Congressman Salazar run the land exchange through Congress.

Thus avoiding evaluating of impacts after land and road agreements are in place.

(Allowing McCombs to trade off property that is already Federally protected for prime development acreage.  Public gains nothing losses much)

Wolf Creek Village Presentation by Ryan Bidwell from Colorado Wild, 2009 - Part 7/9

Haggling over the propriety exchange going through Congress ...

The decision is different and separate from the analysis...

EIS is supposed to inform decisions.

What are the benefit to the rest of us of side-stepping the EIS

4:20  "By our estimates McCombs has spent 12 million dollars (and eleven years) trying to circumvent the responsibility of going through the review process."

Considering the new developer Clint Jones ...

Let's think this thing through before we commit.

Wolf Creek Village Presentation by Ryan Bidwell from Colorado Wild, 2009 - Part 8/9

Friends of Wolf Creek have sat down and had conversations with Clint Jones.
Looking for that economic boost

Finding a balance

About the resources Colorado Wild has invested

"I'll leave you with that question: What makes the most sense for public in terms of these two land exchange processes?"

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

1:20  "What we are talking about is giving Mr McCombs public land which is clearly more developable than what he's got right now.  There's no question about that.  So why are we giving it to him?  There ought to be something in it for the public. ..."

Difference between Colorado Wild and Friends of Wolf Creek and high powered lobbyist   ...

Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County incurring costs but all the tax revenue going to Mineral County far removed from the impacts.

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