Friday, November 3, 2017

What's the Village at Wolf Creek Good For?

The following appears in the November Four Corners Free Press.

The suspense is over, Red McCombs and family have decided to appeal Judge Matsch’s May decision which nullified the 2015 “Village at Wolf Creek/LMJV, landswap agreement with the Rio Grande National Forest/US Dept Agriculture.

There's much to be said, but here I focus on the headline quote from Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture’s attorney William J Leone a top notch legal gunslinger at Norton Rose Fulbright* who assures us:   
“The Leavell-McCombs Joint-Venture believes strongly the project is a good project and the Forest Service did everything it needed to do to study the environmental impacts of that project.”
Good for who?  Good for what?  What good will it be for the Rio Grande National Forest?

What good will it be for the Alberta Park watershed at the source waters of the Rio Grande River?  What good will it be for the wellbeing of this wildlife corridor and its occupants?  What good will it be for tax payers and local governments who are left holding a boondoggle?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

UPDATE Oct18th, they're baaack. Red appeals Judge Matsch's VWC decision.

So sad, nothing is ever learned.  

The McCombs have turned a deft ear to all the reasoned arguments.  Facts don’t seem to matter.  Objectively speaking, considering the community, the Rio Grande River, the Alberta Park watershed, all would best be served by that Alberta Park parcel being left alone to continue fulfilling it’s biological and hydrological services as the keystone to the Wolf Creek watershed and wilderness and an integral part of the Rio Grande National Forest from which it was absconded through a 1980s game of shady land grab poker.

Only obsessive greed and some bizarre need to despoil land for the sake of proving one’s own mastery can explain such obsession.  Here we go again.  

For a look at Senior Judge Matsch’s Order May 21, 2017 see the end of this post.

Village at Wolf Creek appeals decision blocking access

Opponents say Forest Service skirted its duties
By Jonathan Romeo Herald staff writer, the DURANGO HERALD, October. 16, 2017

Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture – spearheaded by Texas billionaire B.J. “Red” McCombs – has filed an appeal with the next tier of the federal court system, challenging a previous federal judge’s decision that the massive development atop Wolf Creek Pass was approved “contrary to law.”

“The Joint-Venture believes strongly the project is a good project and the Forest Service did everything it needed to do to study the environmental impacts of that project,” said Bill Leone, an attorney representing the developers. The appeal was filed Friday.  …

In May, Judge Richard P. Matsch, a senior U.S. district judge for the District of Colorado, in no uncertain terms, agreed.

“What NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) requires is that before taking any major action, a federal agency must stop and take a careful look to determine the environmental impact of that decision, and listen to the public before taking action,” Matsch wrote in his decision. “The Forest Service failed to do that.”

In September, Matsch denied a request from Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture to reconsider the May decision.
“The Forest Service cannot abdicate its responsibility to protect the forest by making an attempt at an artful dodge,” Matsch wrote in that decision. …

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Open Letter to Mr. McCombs and Marsha Shields, please reconsider your intentions.

I believe it is appropriate to personally petition Mr. McCombs and his daughter Marsha M. Shields, asking them to completely reconsider their out of date plans for a mountain village at Alberta Park. I encourage others to send their own thoughtful and constructive petitions on behalf of yourself, Alberta Park and all the wildlife and biology going on that can’t speak for itself.  
(It was suggested that my letter lacked an appropriate ending.  Upon reflection, they were right.  Revised June 20th.)

Open letter to Mr. McCombs and family, 
written while visiting Alberta Park earlier this week.


Dear Mr. McCombs and Marsha Shields,

We’ve met a couple times. Once was in Creede, at your 2005 Village at Wolf Creek presentation. I was passing out my No-VWC pamphlet and though we never got close, we did share a couple eye-to-eyes during the many speeches. Then at Congressman Salazar’s 2010 (Adam's State College) roundtable in Alamosa.

You walked up to me and accepted my flier, then you surprised me by extending your hand and I was honored to shake it. Not much was said, just two guys sizing each other up and walking away. I honestly cherish the memory since it made you a real person to me and not some distant cartoon. 

Given Judge Matsch’s decision and the Village at Wolf Creek land trade being nullified, I feel it’s a good time to personally explain why I’ve been dogging your project and to ask that you and your daughter stop to consider Alberta Park as the irreplaceable biological treasure that it is.

Letter to Mr. McCombs and LMJV - supplemental information

List of links and other supporting information for my letter to LMJV’s Red McCombs and his daughter Marsha McCombs Shields pleading with them to consider abandoning all their development dreams for Alberta Park, in favor of leaving that precious landscape unmolested to continue serving the many biological and wildlife support functions it currently fulfills.

“Creede, at your 2005 Village at Wolf Creek presentation”
“2010 (Adam's State College) roundtable in Alamosa"
“surrounding watershed”
Fens “provide a real service”
“La Garita Wilderness Area”
“Weminuche Wilderness Area”
“Silverton” 9,813 feet above sea level
Elevation: 10326 feet     Latitude: 37 29N     Longitude: 106 52W
Köppen Classification: Continental Subarctic Climate
“the wind blows incessantly”
“Why would we expect calm days”
Defining “subarctic weather conditions”

Federal Judge Has Ruled - Red McCombs and LMJV land swap nullified.

US District Court Colorado, Judge Matsch's ORDER: 

"Where an agency action is found to be arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, or 39 otherwise not in accordance with law, the Court must “hold [it] unlawful and set [it] aside.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2). The Court finds and concludes that Defendants actions violated the APA in the respects specified in this decision.  

Accordingly, it is ORDERED that the Record of Decision dated May 21, 2015, is SET ASIDE.

For Text of Ruling:

Friday, May 26, 2017


Friends of Wolf Creek call to action.

Hello to all you Friends of Wolf Creek and Alberta Park, can I share some important thoughts?

After years and decades of mostly being relegated to the sidelines, while promoters made slick presentations and the powers-that-be danced their dance, our time has arrived.  On May 19th, Senior District Judge Richard P. Matsch handed down his decision in the Civil Action of 15-cv-01342 - It nullified the land swap agreement between the Rio Grande National Forest / USDA and Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture (Village at Wolf Creek speculators).  

The Rio Grande Forest Service and USDA received a stinging rebuke for its one-sided approach and is currently digesting the judge’s decision.  The Village at Wolf Creek speculators once again find themselves back at first base with nothing to show for more than three decades of lobbying, beyond lost court battles and endless expenses.  

Now is the time when a significant ground-swell of the Friends of Wolf Creek proactively lobbying Red McCombs, perhaps even his McCombs Foundation and certainly the VWC website and the Rio Grande National Forest Administration could well have a resounding impact on their thinking, or at least their decisions moving forward.  You never know until you make the effort.

I don’t mean anything belligerent, that would be totally counter-productive!  I’m talking about striving to win hearts and minds.  Help in a friendly effort to educate and convince the source of the Alberta Park Problem of the error of their ways.
(edited 5/29/2017)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What’s RGNF/USDA learned from Judge Matsch’s rebuke?

The VWC Saga continues.  I have been in contact with the Forest Service and want to share our correspondence in keeping with my goal of being an information kiosk for those interested in helping save Alberta Park from destructive development. 
For this post I’m going to start with my second email to the Rio Grande National Forest and backtrack from there:
Dear Communication Officers Blakeman, Lujan and Superintendent Dallas,

Communication Officer Lawrence Lujan responded to my questions with a one-liner:  "We are evaluating the court’s ruling and have no further comment at this time."  Nothing more.  

No hint of when the public can hope to hear RGNF/USDA’s response to the reprimand it received from Senior Federal Judge Matsch regarding its handling of the Village At Wolf Creek land swap negotiations and subsequent Environmental Impact Study and Draft.

This matters because from the public’s perspective the RGNF/USDA has maintained a decidedly pro-development stance during the past decades of negotiating with the wheeler dealer from the Texan lowlands.  In the process it has relegated environmental issues such as wetlands, fens concerns, wildlife corridor issues, health issues, fundamental feasibility issues with the project - to irrelevant externalities to be addressed by someone else, somewhere down the road after the irreparable damage is underway.

Judge Matsch made clear how inappropriate that outlook and actions were.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Village At Wolf Creek developments - collection of news stories, May 2017

In a significant win for opponents of the Village at Wolf Creek, a federal judge on Friday invalidated the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to approve a land exchange that would have essentially served as a green light for a new resort atop the remote mountain pass.

“The order rules in the favor of community groups who have been fighting this ill-conceived project for decades,” said Travis Stills, an attorney with Energy & Conservation Law. “This is an important decision that respects the law, the environment and, importantly, agency staffers who tried to protect the national forest, despite the constant barrage of political pressure.” …

For nearly three decades, Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture has sought to build a resort with a capacity for an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people on the mountain pass at nearly 10,000 feet and more than 20 miles from the nearest town.

… Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch in no uncertain terms agreed with those concerns. …  


San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council

We did it!! Denver Judge Matsch ruled that federal agencies did not complete the work that must be done to review developmental impacts a large scale ski resort would have on the National Forest at Wolf Creek Pass, and that any future village proposal must include that review. Thank you to Rocky Mountain Wild, the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and Wilderness Workshop for making this possible! See the press release and court document at the links below.


BIG WIN: Judge Nullifies Land Exchange Critical to 
Village at Wolf Creek (development)

Judge Matsch’s decision validates nearly every complaint we had regarding the Forest Service’s botched attempt at an Environmental Impact Statement. They shirked their responsibility to assess the impacts of development and disregarded significant public input. Your input.
In a world where billionaires too often get their way, regardless of how they play the game, this is a reassuring testament to the power of democracy and everyday people to speak out and make a difference,.

See full Press Release below:


PRESS RELEASE: Federal Judge Sets Aside Forest Service Wolf Creek Land Exchange

Denver, CO — The Honorable Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch issued an Order today affirming that the Forest Service “failed to consider important aspects of the issues before them, offered an explanation for their decision that runs counter to the evidence, failed to base their decision on consideration of the relevant factors, and based their decision on an analysis that is contrary to law.” This Order concludes another chapter in this decades long saga to protect Wolf Creek pass from a large scale residential and commercial development that could accommodate 8,000 to 10,000 visitors.



MONDAY, JUNE 29, 2015
Pictures of Alberta Park the proposed site for the luxury Village at Wolf Creek

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Back Story ~ Village at Wolf Creek ~ presented by Ryan Bidwell 
(at the time Executive Director of Colorado Wild)

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Alberta Park's Rio Grande Nat'l Forest Service....... 'open house hike' September 20, 2011
(revised 2/26/12 to reflect final draft)

… Considering the great controversy surrounding this project the Rio Grande National Forest decided to sponsor a four hour field trip/hike September 20th through Alberta Park, site of the proposed development. Led by District Ranger Tom Malecek the tour was intended to inform the interested public about the project as well as offering a friendly setting for folks to speak with various participants. …

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
June 4, 2015 - Wolf Creek Land Exchange - Inside Durango TV

Updated 6/6/2015 - Supervisor Dallas responds to my questions 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Index of Posts - NO-Village at Wolf Creek - Rio Grande National Forest ( January 2016)

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Judge rules agency inexplicably withheld information from public

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Celebrating Alberta Park and Honoring Wolf Creek

Art for the Endangered Landscape:  Honoring Wolf Creek 
Friends of Wolf Creek is planning an informative and inspiring art opportunity this summer, honoring Wolf Creek Pass. Artists of all disciplines will converge at the Wolf Creek Ski Area on Saturday June 20, 2015 to spend the day in the creative process. 

Judge Has Ruled - Red McCombs and LMJV land swap nullified. Text of Ruling.

US District Court Colorado, Judge Matsch's ORDER: 
"Where an agency action is found to be arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, or 39 otherwise not in accordance with law, the Court must “hold [it] unlawful and set [it] aside.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2). The Court finds and concludes that Defendants‟ actions violated the APA in the respects specified in this decision.  
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that the Record of Decision dated May 21, 2017, is SET ASIDE.

I recall back in January 2016 having Mike Blakeman (Public Affairs Specialist RGNF) advise against speculation and to let the judge judge based on the merits of the case.  He reminded us that Judge Matsch had a distinguished record and could be trusted to take the time to wade through the documents and sort out the facts, then to make a reasoned and fair decision.  It's now May 20th, 2017 and the judge's considered and legally binding decision was released yesterday.  In essence Red McCombs' Village at Wolf Creek land swap deal has been rejected by the Federal Court.

Without comment, though I did add emphasis, I'm sharing the text of Judge Matsch's full decision, I thank for posted it at:


Case 1:15-cv-01342-RPM Document 67 Filed 05/19/17 USDC Colorado

Senior District Judge Richard P. Matsch
Civil Action No. 15-cv-01342-RPM


DAN DALLAS, in his official capacity as Forest Supervisor;
MARIBETH GUSTAFSON, in her official capacity as Deputy Regional Forester; 
a Federal Agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture; 
a federal agency within the Department of the Interior,