WASHINGTON – A pair of local environmentalists spent two days this week meeting with members of the Colorado delegation in Washington, D.C., opposing a decision issued in Mayby the U.S. Forest Service to swap land with a private developer at the base of Wolf Creek Ski Area.
Jimbo Buickerood, public lands coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance, and Monique DiGiorgio, executive director of the Chama Peak Land Alliance, asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set aside the Forest Service’s decision until there is a broader environmental review of the project that includes input from agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We’re concerned that this development will forever change the character of this area,” said DiGiorgio, describing how broader roads and more development in the area would endanger the natural migration paths of wildlife such as the Canadian lynx.
The coalition opposing the proposed Village at Wolf Creek is also asking for an independent review of the project, saying documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act show Forest Service reviewer Maribeth Gustafson was in talks with the project proponents. They say this presents a conflict of interest as described by the Forest Service’s own policies. Gustafson is on leave until Tuesday and did not reply to an email request for comment.
“I’m not sure officials in the Department of Agriculture are even aware of this problem,” said Buickerood, who is concerned that agency officials aren’t communicating with each other. The Forest Service is housed within the Department of Agriculture.
Texas billionaire B.J. “Red” McCombs has been trying since 1986 to build a village at the base of Wolf Creek Ski Area, but he has needed access to his property from the Forest Service. Federal officials approved a land exchange in May in which developers would offer 177 acres of private land to the Forest Service in the Rio Grande National Forest in exchange for about 205 acres of federal land.
A coalition of conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday arguing that the federal environmental impact analysis was narrow in scope.
Environmentalists, largely through lawsuits such as one filed earlier this week, have managed to delay planning and permitting of the development over three decades, but proponents say construction will begin this year.
Morale is strong in the opposition camp.
“We’re fired up,” DiGiorgio said. “Let’s end this now.”
Philip Clelland, a spokesman for Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said his office is aware of the long-standing issue and will be looking into the concerns the groups have raised.
email@example.com. Mariam Baksh is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.