Monday, October 17, 2016

Canada lynx factor in lawsuits over Village at Wolf Creek

On account of the Village at Wolf Creek development once again being engulf in a legal quagmire, (where the process grinds along at a glacial pace), it seems nothing has been happening.  

But, as Gail Binkly, editor of the Four Corners Free Press, reports in their October issue some significant things are happening.  

Since she's done such a clear job of explaining, I asked permission to reprint her article and she said sure.  I've added the highlights.  Not much to add, except for thank you Gail.

Cat fight: 
The threatened Canada lynx is a factor in lawsuits over the Village at Wolf Creek

The future of a seldom-seen feline and the fate of a luxury development on Wolf Creek Pass, seemingly distinct issues, are inextricably entangled.

The status of the shy, snow-loving Canada lynx, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, influences discussions about the proposed resort, while the final decision about the project – whenever it comes – will certainly impact the animal.

The lynx, a threatened species,
is a factor in discussions about the controversial 
Village at Wolf Creek proposal in Colorado’s southern San Juan Mountains.
photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

A recent court decision has complicated the picture. On Sept. 7, a U.S. District Court in Montana ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had wrongly decided not to include southern Colorado when it designated critical habitat for the rare animal. 

In a lawsuit brought by five environmental nonprofits including WildEarth Guardians, Chief District Judge Dana L. Christensen ordered the service to reconsider its “final rule” regarding lynx habitat, issued two years previously.

Court proceedings are also a big part of the picture regarding the “Village at Wolf Creek,” a Texas billionaire’s proposed development high on the snowy pass, south of U.S. Highway 160. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

J.Paul Brown lies about serious climate science (dist.59)

I want to share a letter than appeared in this past week's Durango Telegraph.  Since a new issue is coming out today, I figure I'll give Peter Veals' (climate scientist) Letter to the Editor at the Durango Telegraph a little more exposure.  It's worth reading and considering.  I follow with links to authoritative resources 

Mr. Brown is a perfect example of the old school that believes faith is more important than facts and that experts can be disregarded because his ego makes him believe he's smarter than actual trained, experienced experts.  And why are people wanting to re-elect this man?  

J. Paul’s ill-informed science
August 4, 2016  |  Durango Telegraph
To the editor,
J. Paul Brown’s remarks to the State Legislature (as reported by the Herald, May 4, 2016) regarding human-caused climate change reveal him to be an ill-informed and irresponsible representative of Southwest Colorado.
Scientists and their work published in peer-reviewed scientific journals are the bedrock upon which mankind’s incredible achievements have been built. The polio vaccine, chemotherapy, the fact that the earth orbits the sun, semiconductor chips, GPS satellites … almost no one questions these discoveries made by the scientific community. Why? Probably because most of these things are immediately tangible: your phone and computer with semiconductor chips do amazing things before your eyes. It is easy to say “my pastures don’t look any different” and think that the global climate isn’t being affected by greenhouse gas emissions.
But science tells us that, undeniably, CO2 is what re-radiates the sun’s energy back toward the Earth’s surface, keeping our planet warm. Science tells us that burning fossil fuels produces CO2, and that we produce over 20 billion tons of CO2 per year by burning them. The vast majority of Earth’s glaciers are shrinking, high-temperature records are being broken at double the rate of low temperature records, and the Arctic sea ice continues to shrink nearly every year. Science tells us that when the long-term weather stations around the world are averaged, 2014 was the warmest year since records have been kept. And then 2015 shattered that record to become the warmest.
But it is difficult for someone like Brown to understand these facts because it still snows on his pastures every winter. That’s why he should leave the science to the professionals; 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change. Instead of turning to farcical sources that recirculate the same, paid nonexperts and debunked claims to “refute” climate science, J. Paul Brown should examine some legitimate scientific literature and consider the future of our corner of the state.
Peter Veals, atmospheric scientist, Ph.D candidate, University of Utah, DHS Class of 2007

The evidence for rapid manmade climate change is compelling:

Climate change: How do we know?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

FERC ruling and LPEA/Tri-State Waiver_by T. Chamberlin

Here's an addition to my previous posts looking at the negotiation waiver that Tri-State wants LPEA (and all their other electrical coops) to sign. This is a Repost of a Durango Telegraph article written by Tracy Chamberlin this past June and it provides some good background information.  

At the July Board of Directors meeting it was decided not to reject the Tri-State waiver, instead they will continue tabling Resolution 2017-07 until the dispute between Delta Montrose Electric Association and Tri-State G&T settles down.  It appears Tri-State has filed an appeal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision discussed in this article - meaning it's still a very dynamic situation.  

Seems to me so much more reason for stakeholders to take an active interest and help LPEA define their approach to an energy future that promises many challenges.  I thank Missy Votel for permission to reprint this article in its entirety.

In wake of recent ruling, LPEA to advise against controversial waiver

by Tracy Chamberlin | June 23, 2016 | Durango Telegraph

Under its contract with Tri-State, LPEA has to buy 95 percent of its power from the wholesaler. The other 5 percent can be purchased from outside sources, like small renewable projects. At just over 4.5 percent already, the local co-op has little wiggle room. / Durango Telegraph file photo

Even though they were waiting for it, they never saw it coming. One day after La Plata Electric Association’s Board of Directors took the wait-and-see approach on a controversial waiver issue, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced a decision that completely changed the game.

LPEA Chief Executive Officer Michael Dreyspring called the commission’s decision unprecedented. One that will affect power companies and co-ops across Colorado, New Mexico and, eventually, the nation. “It’s a very significant ruling,” he said.

It all began last year when Delta-Montrose Energy Association, a regional electric co-op like LPEA, was approached by a small hydroelectric power producer.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

State Rep. J Paul Brown this is 2016.

I received the following and can't resist passing it along.  It underscores the general disconnect Republicans have achieved with the living reality of our world here in 2016.  
Of course, given the mess after decades worth of right-wing Reaganomics stewardship 
and its many decidedly counter-productive outcomes, 
it's no wonder many try to hide and dream of better days.

Dear Peter,

The GOP hasn't exactly been subtle about their desire to return to their idealized version of America in the 1950's, but this mailer that just landed in Durango really takes things to a new level:


This was actually sent out in support of Rep. J. Paul Brown, an extremist legislator who would fit in better in a Mad Men world than in modern Colorado. 

Brown deserves every bit of 50's nostalgia that accompanies that mail piece. He has consistently voted to gut environmental protections, prevent a woman's right to choose, and to put corporations ahead of Colorado families. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

July 2016 Update - Village at Wolf Creek lawsuit

The short version, the wheels of justice grind ever so slowly, but on they grind.  I'll let Chris Talbot-Heindl fill you in on the details:

By: Chris Talbot-Heindl, Communications & Membership Manager, Rocky Mountain Wild
July 12, 2016

Last Friday, during a motions hearing on the Wolf Creek case, Friends of Wolf Creek asked Federal Judge Richard Matsch to compel the Forest Service to obtain and disclose records and billing statements from the contractors who prepared the environmental analysis. Friends of Wolf Creek also requested the confidential settlement agreement between the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture and the Wolf Creek Ski Area, which involved the challenged land exchange.

One of our lawyers for the case, Travis Stills, explained that the documents “we’ve received piece meal over the last two years paint an incomplete picture and our hope is that the requested documents would fill in the gaps.”

While Judge Matsch denied parts of the Motion to Compel dealing with the contractor records and billing statements, he stated that the contractor records could still be obtained through our ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case. The Judge added that if our FOIA case did result in the release of the contractor records, those documents could be added to the merits case at a later time.

“We believe the contractor records contain a missing piece to this puzzle and are hopeful we will have the opportunity to review that information through our ongoing FOIA litigation” stated Matt Sandler, Staff Attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild, “that said, we already have strong evidence to support our case and look forward to presenting that to the Court.”

Judge Matsch was particularly interested in the content of the confidential settlement agreement. The lawyer representing the Ski Area stated that the information contained in the settlement agreement is sensitive but did not provide insight into the relevancy to the litigation. Judge Matsch ordered the Department of Justice attorney for the Forest Service to review the document and determine the relevance of the information and report back to the Court.

Regarding the timeline of the merits case, Judge Matsch ordered that all parties should work together to complete the Administrative Record and determine a timeline for addressing the merits of the case. He ordered that the case start with the record as it stands now, supplemented with relevant parts of the secret settlement agreement and other documents that have already been identified. “Get the guts of the case before me,” he said.

The merits case asserts numerous violations of federal environmental laws, including the claims that the Forest Service unnecessarily limited the scope of its environmental analysis on a land exchange with the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture to avoid fully analyzing the impacts that the proposed development of a 8,000 person “village” would have on the Rio Grande National Forest and sensitive wildlife, including the Canada lynx.


In March 2016, we filed a motion in the U.S. District Court to have records in the possession of the contractors that the Forest Service hired to prepare the environmental analysis of the land exchange disclosed and potentially added to the Administrative Record. While these records legally belong to the Forest Service, they have refused to ask the contractors to supply all of them. The attorneys for the Forest Service and the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture responded to the court arguing that the Administrative Record was complete without these additional records. In the first week of May, we filed a 23-page Reply brief, and now we are awaiting the Court's decision. Full copies of our Brief, the defendant's Responses, and our Reply brief can be found here:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Reflecting on June 2016 LPEA Board of Directors Tri-State renewable energy stance

Encouraging co-ops to look to renewables

Peter Miesler
Four Corners Free Press
July 2016 | page 20
{My previous post provides an introduction and the background for this FCFP column}

It started with an email that read: La Plate Electric Association’s board of directors is meeting on June 15 to consider a blanket waiver giving Tri-State Generation and Transmission, our power provider, the right to be the primary negotiator of ALL our renewable energy projects going forward. Given Tri-State’s reliance on coal, given how it is stonewalling affordable solar and other renewables …”

The email’s plea was simple, if you care about developing renewable energy, get informed, write the LPEA's BoD, and attend the upcoming June Board of Directors meeting at 9AM for your short opportunity to speak and share concerns.

My curiosity roused, I started ‘googling’ and reading related articles that pieced together an interesting regional story worth sharing. To understand what happened at LPEA this past month, you need to go back to the 1978 passage of PURPA (Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act) which mandated electrical co-ops such as LPEA start purchasing some of their power from renewable energy sources.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tri-State Generation and Transmission tries hobbling LPEA's renewable energy options

Though this blog is dedicated to the Wolf Creek Watershed, once in a while a regional issue of importance to our future economy and biosphere's health comes along that's worth sharing over here.

I've submitted a column to the Four Corners Free Press for their July issue reporting on La Plata Electric Association's board of directors considering the forfeiture of their future negotiation rights on renewable energy projects to notoriously renewable energy hostile Tri-State Generation and Transmission.

Researching that column I came upon many informative articles that I didn't have the space to credit, so I've decided to collect the better ones and share a few key quotes from each for easy reference.  As for my 750 word column, I'll be posting it after the July issue of the Four Corners Free Press appears in the newsstands.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
June 14. 2016
By Jessica Pace Herald staff writer
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
June 15. 2016
By Jessica Pace Herald staff writer
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
6/15/2016 - LPEA Statement
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
June 21, 2016
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
February 18, 2016
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
July 10, 2015
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
April 2, 2015
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
June 19, 2009

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Concise History of the Village at Wolf Creek - San Juan Citizens Alliance

San Juan Citizens Alliance
Does a great many things.  I'll admit I'm most familiar with their 30 years worth of efforts to protect Alberta Park from thoughtless destruction and now they have revamped their webpage and it's become an even better resource.  I encourage you to check it out:

They have put together this one page summary that's a must for finishing up this series of posts:

1986: Land Exchange #1
Leavell Properties requested 420 acres of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land on the east flank of Wolf Creek Pass in exchange for 1,631 acres of degraded rangeland they owned in Saguache County. Their aim was to develop 200 residential units adjacent to the Wolf Creek Ski Area. Colorado’s then Congressman Hank Brown interfered with this process. The USFS denied the exchange due to concerns surrounding “a decrease in public values;” but two weeks later, the USFS withdrew the denial decision and, without providing a valid reason, approved the transfer of 300 acres to Leavell.

RGNF asks for patience, wait for the judge to judge.

Mike Blakeman (Public Affairs Specialist RGNF) whom I have great respect for, responded to my email.  He didn't have much to share considering this is an active court case.  He did make a request:
 "I would ask that you look at my quotes in the Durango Herald article and really think about it."
Here is what he and Dan Dallas, had to say in the Durango Herald article, followed by a few thoughts in response.
"When asked about Malecek’s “swimming with sharks” email that claims Dallas was concerned about potentially damaging information and the need to hide correspondences from FOIA, he said: 
“It’s an unfortunate use of words, certainly, but there is no, again, I was asking folks to be disciplined about working out internal questions between each other.
“I’m not interested in throwing employees under the bus, but Malecek said what he said, and that wasn’t my intent. There is no cover-up.”
Mike Blakeman, public affairs specialist for the Rio Grande National Forest, said the local Forest Service is frustrated because it is easy to pull out emails and develop stories around them.
“You have groups that want to present a particular view that supports them, so they will obviously provide emails that prove that,” Blakeman said. “And I feel like that’s what’s occurring here.”
Both men contend any claims of a cover-up or collusions with McCombs will be proved false once hearings start for the Friends of Wolf Creek’s legal complaint against the Forest Service about the most recent EIS.  

Index of Posts - NO-Village at Wolf Creek - Rio Grande National Forest

I like to think of this blog as a sort of an information kiosk for concerned citizens, feel free to copy and share.  Please remember to include the original sources where appropriate.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Same as it ever was, Red's saga continues.


{edited 1/19/16, 2:45 PM - I wrote this after an already long day and made a mess of some of dates.  My apologies, think I've finally gotten the tangled mess properly straightened out. }

This was originally posted March 21, 2012.  Considering today's news I thought it would be appropriate to dust it off a bit, update it a bunch and share.


The Village at Wolf Creek, It’s A Scandal  (March 21, 2012)

Let me tell you a story about a man called Red, a gambling man with a plan.  He was going to buy into Colorado's high mountain Real Estate game during those booming 1980s.  The plan, buy up a few scattered private parcels that were besmirching the lower Saguache Ranger District of the Rio Grande National Forest. It was nice land; land the Rio Grande Forest Service had been eyeing in order to consolidate ownership of that range land and clean up their map.  Red had it all figured out.

With those chips in hand Red saddled up to the public lands real estate table, proposing to trade his coveted Saguache District chips for an incredible jackpot smack in the middle of the high country, near US Highway 160 just shy of Wolf Creek Pass and the ski area smack in a beautiful productive watershed, headwaters to the Rio Grande River don't you know.  

In 1986 after due process Red’s proposal was rejected by RGNF officials because the Albert Park parcel was too precious to lose, consolidated Saguache District map be damned.

McCombs' political arm-twisting, the ugly details start coming out

I so want to believe in the integrity of the Rio Grande National Forest administrators and their Environmental Impact Study staff, but the more information comes forward the harder it gets.  
Wish I could ask Rio Grande National Forest's District Ranger Dan Dallas, when will the public's best interest receive an objective hearing?
Development of what is rightfully a part of the Rio Grande National Forest, namely Alberta Park (the virtually pristine biologically productive wetlands/watershed for the interstate, international Rio Grande River) is not some god given right for a pushy, self-interest blinded billionaire!
For further information see the Durango Herald article
Group says collusion apparent in Village at Wolf Creek development project 
Documents suggest Forest Service concealed and deleted information, allowed undue influence 
By Jonathan Romeo
Highlights, from a release by the Friends of Wolf Creek coalition.
I added the shaded highlighting.
Forest Service “Village at Wolf Creek” Records Confirm Active Document Concealment/Destruction and Improper Influence
Documents obtained by Friends of Wolf Creek organizations (Rocky Mountain Wild, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, San Juan Citizens Alliance and outside legal counsel Energy and Conservation Law) confirm that Forest Service personnel in the Rio Grande National Forest, Denver Regional Office, and Washington D.C. have:
  1. Actively concealed and destroyed information involving the Village at Wolf Creek proposal 
  2. Allowed Red McCombs to threaten Forest Service staff and influence the analysis 
  3. Refused to conduct a search for relevant documents that should be available for public scrutiny unless and until compelled by a Court order 

When is enough, enough - Rio Grande Nat'l Forest and Red McCombs?


Forest Service Actively Concealed And Destroyed Information Concerning Planned Development On Wolf Creek Pass

Advocacy groups push for release of records from senior officials

DURANGO, CO – After waiting a year and a half for documents relating to a 2015 Forest Service decision that will enable development of the controversial “Village at Wolf Creek,” the Friends of Wolf Creek coalition has discovered evidence that the Forest Service has been concealing and destroying records and being improperly influenced by the would-be developer, Texas billionaire Red McCombs.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is designed to give the public access to documentation such as emails, reports, and phone records associated with the decisions officials make on the public’s behalf. When the Forest Service failed to comply with two FOIA requests in 2014, coalition member Rocky Mountain Wild took the issue to court to gain access to the documents.

Examination of the 69,701 pages released to date is beginning to finally shed light on the unlawful practices that resulted in the Forest Service approving a critical land exchange with the developer.
The Forest Service actively concealed and destroyed public information. Forest Service communications confirm that employees intentionally destroyed and concealed documents from FOIA requests. Practices included deleting emails, sending a document “hardcopy so it would not be subject to FOIA,” and cc’ing attorneys so that documents would “remain attorney-client privilege and not subject to FOIA.” ...