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Most fault road access to Village at Wolf Creek, others see economic potential

Forest Service expected to make decision this fall
A rendering of the proposed Village at Wolf Creek. A majority of people who weighed in during a public comment period on the U.S. Forest Service granting road access for the projected opposed the decision.

A majority of people who weighed in on the U.S. Forest Service granting the Village at Wolf Creek road access opposed the decision, citing many faults with the proposed resort atop Wolf Creek Pass.

In the approximately 200 comments submitted during a 45-day public input period, about 140 people opposed the Forest Service’s decision, with about 60 people speaking in favor of the project.

Those who opposed the Forest Service’s decision, which effectively paves the way for the Village at Wolf Creek, called out many issues related to environmental damage, destruction of lynx habitat, fire danger and detrimental impacts to water quality.

“This is a massive development that will dramatically alter the wilderness,” wrote Kevin Bruce, a Pagosa Springs resident. “What part of creating a massive development in the middle of one of the last remaining core habitat areas in the Southern Rockies do the developers not understand?”

Efforts to build a resort at the top of Wolf Creek Pass have been ongoing for more than 30 years, driven by Texas billionaire B.J. “Red” McCombs. The property, however, has always lacked road access to U.S. Highway 160.

Challenged almost every step of the way, the proposed Village at Wolf Creek would have a capacity for 8,000 to 10,000 people with lodging and businesses.

The resort would be located about 20 miles from the nearest towns – Pagosa Springs and South Fork – at an elevation of about 10,000 feet, adjacent to the relatively small Wolf Creek Ski Area.

About four years ago, the Forest Service approved a land swap that gave the developers road access, but it was immediately challenged by environmental groups that said the Forest Service failed to take environmental concerns into account and was unduly influenced by McCombs and his political pressure to grant road access.

A federal court judge in May 2017 agreed, calling the Forest Service’s decision biased, and the environmental review that justified the land swap an “artful dodge” of its responsibilities to protect public lands.

In July, however, the Forest Service announced it would grant road access through other means, which kicked off the 45-day public comment period. A final decision is pending.

“In my view, adding 8,000 people to the area is in no way a ‘reasonable use,’” wrote Cathleen Enns. “It’s hard to imagine two times the population of my town, Bayfield, on the mountain top and traveling the pass.”

Pagosa Springs resident Jim Milstein wrote, “It is such a bad project, environmentally, aesthetically, socially, and physiologically. If started, it is bound to fail and would irreparably harm the important ecosystem at the headwaters of the Rio Grande.”

Those who support building the Village at Wolf Creek spoke out in favor of the supposed economic benefits the development would have on nearby communities in South Fork and Pagosa Springs.

“During the winter season our business suffers drastically, the lack of people coming to and then staying in South Fork is detrimental to any business trying to survive,” wrote Brenda Maze, who owns a restaurant in South Fork.

Randy Phillips, of Booker, Texas, wrote, “It is ridiculous to think that the forest is going to be ruined, or wildlife adversely affected with the relatively small foot print of the village.”

Jon Boyd, of Scottsdale, Arizona, wrote, the resort “would become a destination place for activity and tourism, bringing further tax revenue to impacted counties.”

And Pagosa Springs resident Cynthia Laner wrote, “Having this development would provide jobs, competitive pricing for food, lodging, and retail stores. Isn’t that what makes this country great?”

Those opposed to the resort, however, questioned whether a new resort next to the ski mountain would really bring more revenue to towns 20 miles away.

“I find the arguments of economic benefits to the area lacking in substance and shortsighted,” Pagosa Springs resident Chris Alonso wrote. “Allowing mountaintop development will hurt the local towns economically, not help.”

Alamosa resident Peter Wise wrote, “While I do think the ski area village may bring economic benefit, it will be to those who own and control the resorts, not the health, well-being, or financial situations of the majority of its users, mostly local people.”

The Forest Service will review comments and make a decision this fall, the agency said in a previous interview.

Regardless, the decision is likely to be challenged in court from environmental groups that say the federal judge’s invalidation of the land swap because of bias found in the environmental review also applies to all alternatives.

“This (decision) ignores and shows utter contempt for the federal court ruling,” Travis Stills, an attorney for the environmental coalition, said in a previous interview. “This is really unprecedented.”

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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