I want you to envision a day with me; it’s the day that bulldozers begin ripping apart Wolf Creek Pass to build Texas billionaire Red McCombs’ version of Vail South.
Last week, that possible dark day moved closer to reality, leaving only one question on the table: What are you willing to do to stop it?
This column has been hammering on an unfortunately repetitive theme: government agencies’ penchant for pleasing the moneyed and powerful, public interest be damned. Nowhere is this theme more clearly written than the top of our beloved Wolf Creek Pass.
Just days ago, the Forest Service’s regional office effectively signed off on the Rio Grande National Forest’s approval of a land swap that is the lynchpin in Red McCombs’ development dream. This land swap is eerily similar to a proposed swap in the 1980s that was denied by the Forest Service, then inexplicably approved, then scrapped after a successful lawsuit by citizens’ groups demonstrated the approval violated the law.
For some reason, this bad idea is again back in the good graces of the public interest, or so says a pliant and capricious Forest Service.
Let’s review that public interest here for a moment.
On one side of the issue, we have people who live, work and recreate in the region. The overwhelming majority of these folks like Wolf Creek Pass as is. We go there to ski or snowboard at a resort that is emphatically not Aspen or Vail. We go there in search of backcountry turns and to hike, fish, snowmobile and hunt. We go there because it’s big and wild and offers something that is special, even sacred.
On the other side of this plan is an out-of-state and out-of-touch developer – one dude – who wants to make some money building another resort.
If the Forest Service can read, it understands this dynamic. They’ve recorded it time and again during public comment periods. Does this knowledge inform their feckless leadership? No. Huh. Maybe “leadership” is a misnomer.
When public servants self-select paths of least resistance, when they choose to evade the full scope of their authority to avoid making hard decisions, they become something less than leaders. They become cogs in a machine of someone else’s design. Anyone know of a good tool for fixing the cogs of a giant and unaccountable machine? When federal agencies fail to protect the public interest, the public will protect it itself.
How? The Alliance and friends are headed to court for sure, where we’ve won on this issue repeatedly in the past. But that’s not enough. The definitive fight over the future of Wolf Creek – and this is that fight – will be won only through the creativity and strength of our entire community.
If you’d like to help with the effort to send Red packing, be in touch. We’re going to need the help.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Olson is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.