A U.S. District Court judge has requested a court hearing on Wednesday in Denver to hear the arguments regarding the proposed Village at Wolf Creek.
In February, all court filings related to a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to essentially approve the proposed development were submitted to Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch.
While such cases are typically decided over court filings, Matsch has requested to hear oral arguments.
“For whatever reason, he’s decided that he wants to hear from the parties, and that can happen regularly in cases,” said Jeff Colwell, clerk of U.S. District Court for Colorado. “It’s his prerogative, and it looks like he wants to hear them out.”
The Durango Herald’s Denver correspondent will cover the hearing, which will start at 9:30 a.m. at the Byron White United States Courthouse, 1823 Stout St.
Since the 1980s, Texas billionaire B.J. “Red” McCombs – spearheading Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture – has tried to build a resort atop the remote area near the base of Wolf Creek Ski area, which would have the capacity for 8,000 to 10,000 people.
The problem for McCombs and his fellow developers is that their property lacks access to U.S. Highway 160, and therefore requires the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of an Environmental Impact Statement that would grant right of entry.
In 2014, the Forest Service’s Rio Grande office approved a land exchange that would give the Village at Wolf Creek the access it needs, justifying the decision by saying Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture is entitled by federal statute to have access to its property.
That decision prompted several environmental groups to file a lawsuit against the Forest Service. They argue the agency unlawfully limited the scope of the environmental assessment and was overly influenced by McComb’s political clout.
The fight over the Village of Wolf Creek has been ongoing for more than three decades, with countless twists and turns. All parties will have a chance to argue before Matsch.
“San Juan Citizens Alliance looks forward to the hearing as an opportunity to continue our efforts to highlight the issues related to ensuring the public’s interest are served in this decades-long struggle to preserve the remaining wild character of the Wolf Creek Pass area,” said Jimbo Buickerood, with SJCA.
The Durango-based alliance is part of the “Friends of Wolf Creek” coalition, which includes Rocky Mountain Wild, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council and Wilderness Workshop.
The Forest Service declined comment for this story, saying the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
Clint Jones, the project manager for the Village of Wolf Creek, did not respond to a request for comment.
In one of the developer’s latest court filings, it argued that the proposed Aspen-sized village would not have an impact on the wilderness of Wolf Creek Pass, which sits at an elevation of 10,000 to 12,000 feet, about 20-plus miles from the nearest town.
“The land off Highway 160 in the vicinity of the ski area is neither a model of solitude, nor can it accurately be described as ‘pristine,’” Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture wrote. “Construction of the Village will not drastically change the area.”
Environmental groups claim the development would disturb wildlife corridors, adversely impact wetlands and the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, as well as destroy critical habitat for the endangered lynx.