A coalition of conservation groups on Thursday submitted an opening brief as part of a lawsuit that aims to stop a land exchange on Wolf Creek Pass that would allow a village with the capacity for 8,000 people in a remote part of Southwest Colorado.
In a Friday news release, the coalition – which includes Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance and San Luis Ecosystem Council – said the U.S. Forest Service unlawfully limited the scope of an environmental analysis and failed to serve the public interest.
“Despite promises to carry out a lawful and transparent analysis of the landowner’s plans, the Forest Service produced an analysis of development concepts based on many of the same violations,” Travis Stills, attorney with Energy & Conservation Law, said in a prepared statement.
The lawsuit stems from a 2015 decision by the U.S. Forest Service’s Rio Grande district that would swap 205 acres of public land for 177 acres of private land within the boundaries of the Rio Grande National Forest. The lawsuit was filed in June 2015.
The deal would give Texas billionaire and developer B.J. “Red” McCombs road access to his project – the Village at Wolf Creek, an Aspen-sized village at the base of Wolf Creek Ski Area – which he has lacked since the 1980s.
Conservation groups opposed to the land exchange further argued that the process to approve the deal was biased, evidenced by 100,000 pages of documents received under the Freedom of Information Act, which they say show collusion between the Forest Service and McCombs.
“The Forest Service erected road blocks at every juncture, forcing us to file suit to get information that should have been readily available to the public,” Matt Sandler, attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild, said in a prepared statement.
“Even though the Forest Service has refused to disclose records kept by the contractors who prepared the environmental analysis, we are confident our brief demonstrates to the judge that this was a fatally flawed process,” Sandler said.
Representatives for the Forest Service and developers of the Village at Wolf Creek have maintained that there was no undue influence in the process of the environmental analysis.
The defendants have 60 days to file a response to the U.S. District Court of Colorado, followed by another 60-day period for the plaintiffs to file a response.
According to the news release, all documents and arguments are expected to be in the hands of Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch by Feb. 2, 2017.