A proposed land exchange between the Village at Wolf Creek and the Forest Service cleared its first crucial hurdle Tuesday when the Forest Service announced it will study whether the plan is a good idea.
The proposed deal would swap private land in a meadow near the base of Wolf Creek Ski Area for a Forest Service hillside next to U.S. Highway 160. The hillside would become the site of a ski resort that has been controversial since original plans were announced more than 20 years ago.
Were glad to get it started. Weve got a ways to go, said Clint Jones, the point man for B.J. Red McCombs, who owns the meadow and has been trying to develop the Village at Wolf Creek since the 1980s.
A Forest Service official said the proposed land trade has the potential to benefit the public by gaining a big wetland in the heart of Alberta Park and a stretch of stream. Wolf Creek Ski Area would have fewer conflicts with its ski trails and the village property.
I feel there is significant public interest and enough potential benefits to this proposed land exchange over the previous right-of-way application to merit a full environmental analysis, Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas said in a news release.
McCombs owns 287 acres below Wolf Creek Ski Area. The proposed trade would exchange 178 acres of private land for 204 acres of Forest Service land a bit farther away from Wolf Creek Ski Area. A Forest Service land appraisal suggested the federal land is worth less than the private land.
The swap is far from final. Tuesdays agreement calls for the Forest Service to begin an Environmental Impact Statement to study the effects of a land trade, with a final decision due in January or later.
What we know with Wolf Creek is, often in the past, we come up with things that slow us down. If everything goes right, this is how it would work, said Mike Blakeman, spokesman for Rio Grande National Forest.
The public will get a chance to be involved and make comments.
We are anxious for sure, the way this is going, said Paul Joyce of Colorado Wild.
The Durango-based environmental group remains critical of the village and questions why the Forest Service would trade 204 acres for 178.
Colorado Wild has been a lead opponent of the village for years, and it successfully settled a federal lawsuit in 2008 to get the developers to start over with a new environmental review.
After settling that lawsuit, McCombs hired Jones, who came up with a new development plan that includes the land trade.
Jones plan solves a critical problem for McCombs. He lacked access to his land from the highway, which prompted a state judge to throw out Mineral Countys approval of his development plan. And McCombs couldnt get road access from the Forest Service because of Colorado Wilds federal lawsuit.
McCombs originally had wanted to get a congressionally approved land exchange along with one approved by the Forest Service. But former U.S. Rep. John Salazar declined to sponsor one, and current Rep. Scott Tipton also has said he will not ask for one.
As originally proposed, the Village at Wolf Creek would have had housing and commercial space for up to 10,000 people.
The first phase of the new village plan calls for 497 housing units, Jones said.
Youre looking at a long ways before we get through all those units, he said.
Full build-out could still bring a very large development 1,711 housing units and 221,100 square feet of commercial and utility space, including water treatment and storage, a possible power plant, restaurants and shops and a phone and cable television center, according to a Forest Service document released Tuesday.
The current private property comes with a scenic easement that lets the Forest Service dictate some design features such as building height.
If the land trade goes through, the Environmental Impact Statement might reveal the need for a new scenic easement, Blakeman said.
Jones said he had not talked much about a new scenic easement with Forest Service officials.
No water rights would change hands in the proposed land trade.