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Village at Wolf Creek faces hurdle

Environmentalists want court to halt Forest Service land swap
In 2011, Rio Grande National Forest District Ranger Tom Malacek points out the location of wetlands and other features of the land the Forest Service was considering trading with developer Red McCombs, who wants to build the Village at Wolf Creek resort on Wolf Creek Pass. The trade was approved in May, but environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to block it.

DENVER – Environmental groups are again aiming to halt a proposed development for the Village at Wolf Creek after federal officials approved a land exchange related to the project.

A coalition of conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday after the U.S. Forest Service gave the land swap the go-ahead in May. 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.

Texas billionaire B.J. “Red” McCombs has been trying since 1986 to build the Village at Wolf Creek at the base of Wolf Creek Ski Area. His proposal is to swap private land in a large meadow below the ski area for Forest Service land abutting U.S. Highway 160. The project would create hotels, townhouses, condominiums and restaurants within the remote area.

The nearly 30-year effort has been overshadowed by several previous lawsuits, all of which sought to stop the ambitious development. Developers crossed a major hurdle last month, but they fully expected additional roadblocks. That delay was realized Wednesday.

“This land exchange was completed without the full and transparent analysis of the impacts that is required by law,” said Matt Sandler, an attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild, who filed the lawsuit. “These laws are in place to protect the public interest; this Forest Service decision protects the interests of big business and billionaires.”

The lawsuit is similar to previous cases, in which it argues that the federal environmental impact analysis was narrow in scope. Forest officials, however, say the swap is their only recourse given legal parameters.

They considered a 1980 law called the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which contains a provision that requires owners of in-holdings to be given reasonable access to their property. That means year-round access for developers, officials say.

Concerns have revolved around wildlife – such as migration routes for lynx – and maintaining the integrity of the scenic treasure that surrounds Wolf Creek.

Opponents recently organized a coalition to travel to Washington, D.C., to speak with lawmakers and federal officials about the matter.

“Our goal is to convince the chief of the U.S. Forest Service ... to take a hard look at this development, and to immediately stop any real estate transactions,” said Jimbo Buickerood, public lands coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “The public has been speaking out against the pillage for almost three years, and we are confident that a truly independent review of this project will show that it is not in the public interest.”

pmarcus@durangoherald.com

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