Are we doomed to the zombie Village at Wolf Creek endlessly stalking the San Juan Mountains?
No matter how many times apparently dead, it seemingly staggers back to life, lurching with a blank gaze and lifeless arms in its 30-year-long quest to ravage our cherished mountains.
Just recently, the Forest Service proposed yet another backdoor maneuver to approve the long-suffering development. Once again, vigilant citizens must rally to end the zombie menace.
The Village at Wolf Creek, as a reminder, was envisioned 30 years ago as a modest complement to the ski area, with at most 208 units housing perhaps 800 skiers. It’s now ballooned to 10 times the size, with almost 2,000 housing units and at least 8,000 people atop one of Colorado’s highest passes.
Thirty years ago, in the first backroom deal, the Forest Service gave a development team headed by Texas billionaire Red McCombs a piece of national forest near the top of Wolf Creek Pass. But the property needs a road across the national forest from Highway 160 to reach the private inholding and make the developers’ dreams a reality.
Last year, a federal court rejected one such plan concocted by the Forest Service with the developers. That plan envisioned trading more public land to the developers in order to make their property adjacent to the highway, thereby advancing the development.
As has long been the case with the convoluted history of this project, the Forest Service cut corners in its required analysis of the development’s impacts. That’s why the court invalidated the Forest Service’s decision last year. Because the Forest Service refused to consider any conditions or limitations on the land exchange, the court set aside the agency’s decision and characterized the analysis as “an artful dodge” of its responsibilities and one that failed to consider the agency’s obligation to protect the public’s wildlife and environmental resources.
Seems like if you flunked the exam, you might want to dig into your studies and do your homework. But not the Forest Service. In this case, the agency has decided to simply use the exact same analysis rejected as inadequate for last year’s decision and issue another decision that instead of a land exchange just approves granting a road access permit.
Perhaps it’s a bit harsh on the Forest Service. We know they are under immense political pressure at all levels to grant the wishes of McCombs. The developers hired hotshot Washington, D.C., lobbyists in an attempt to get a Texas politician to shoehorn a rider onto an appropriations bill requiring approval of the Village at Wolf Creek. Fortunately, Colorado politicians rejected that swampiest of D.C. swamp moves.
Now, the public has yet another opportunity to reject the project. Although the Forest Service would like to restrict public comment as much as possible by limiting review to an arcane bureaucratic process, the public certainly has the right to comment on this latest giveaway to out-of-state developers. The local coalition opposing the project has details on how to comment at www.friendsofwolfcreek.org.
The Village at Wolf Creek is a long-festering sore that calls out for political leadership to solve, either at the federal level or by our governor. The repetitive cycles of failed environmental analysis and lawsuits, the backroom deals between the developers and the government hidden from the public’s eye and the sleazy sweetheart legislative riders need to end.
Let’s demand an open, inclusive process in the full transparent glare of the public’s eye. Maybe then we can finally secure a future for our high San Juan Mountains we all can savor.
Mark Pearson is executive director at San Juan Citizens Alliance. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.