A coalition of environmental groups opposed to the Village at Wolf Creek say a letter the project’s developers wrote in January is a violation of federal laws.
The letter, written by Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture in January, demanded the U.S. Forest Service let them start building the new ski resort despite a federal court judge’s ruling the project was invalid.
“LMJV urgently and respectfully requests that the Forest Service issue an immediate decision,” Clint Jones, project manager wrote. “It has now been seven months since Judge Matsch issued his opinion. ... It has been 30 years since the original land exchange that created the inholding and associated efforts to obtain access began.”
In May 2017, senior federal Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled the Forest Service skirted its responsibilities when it approved a land swap that would give access to a proposed massive development at the base of Wolf Creek Ski area.
“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.”
Since the ruling, the Forest Service and Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture have challenged the judge’s decision in appeals court, to no avail. The Forest Service recently dropped out of the appeals process.
In the January letter, Jones argues that Matsch took issue with the land exchange, not the project itself and, therefore, the Forest Service should give the developers access so it could at least start construction, hopefully by summer 2018.
“The full environmental consequences of development ... has been likewise analyzed in the EIS (environmental impact statement),” Jones wrote. “No further analysis is needed.”
The environmental groups argue that Matsch’s decision addresses the entire environmental review and Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture’s letter is out of line.
“This proposal flagrantly violates federal laws and LMJV’s own agreement to subject any access request to federal scrutiny,” said Travis Stills, an attorney representing the environmental groups. “We expect the Forest Service will honor the binding settlement agreement and federal court orders, even if LMJV does not.”
Calls to the Forest Service and Department of Justice were not returned.
For about 30 years, would-be developers Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture, led by Texas billionaire B.J. “Red” McCombs have tried to build a resort with the capacity for up 10,000 people on Wolf Creek Pass.
The project lacked access to a major road, U.S. Highway 160. Three years ago, however, the Forest Service approved a land exchange, which in effect gave the developers access to Highway 160.
The Forest Service’s decision, however, was challenged by environmental groups that say the Forest Service didn’t take into account environmental concerns and was influenced by McCombs and his political pressure.
Judge Match’s ruling in May called the Forest Service’s actions throughout the process an “artful dodge” to skirt its responsibility to protect public lands.
Matsch said the Forest Service displayed “bias” in its decision to approve the land swap, suggesting the agency relied on environmental reviews that favored the developers and their request.
“(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,” he wrote.
The Forest Service has stopped appealing Matsch’s decision, but Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture is still attempting to reverse it.
Environmental groups say the developers do not have the legal standing to carry out the process.