Texas billionaire McCombs still intent on pursuing Wolf Creek village project
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Like some kind of zombie nightmare, a plan to develop real estate on several hundred acres near the base of Wolf Creek ski area has risen from the grave once again.
Rangers with the Rio Grande National Forest said this week they will begin a land trade process that — if approved — would convey 204 acres of public lands, including some adjacent to U.S. Highway 160, to would-be developer Billy Joe “Red” McCombs in exchange for 178 acres of private backcountry inholdings.
The Texas billionaire has been trying for years to win approval for a speculative real estate development near Wolf Creek Pass in an area with sensitive Alpine wetlands and wildlife habitat for threatened lynx.
A previous proposal stalled several years ago, but behind-the-scenes talks at the highest political levels have once again propelled the process.
Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas said the proposed exchange appears to be in the public interest:
“It is my belief that the merits of completing an exchange must be evaluated in contrast to the grant of an easement for access to the property. The owner has a right of access under ANILCA and that LMJV has every intention of securing access to the property either through land exchange or direct easement grant,” Dallas wrote in a feasibility study for the swap.
“Based on the above analysis, and when weighed against the proponent’s existing ANILCA access right and subsequent request for a road easement, this exchange appears in the public interest. It is my opinion that this proposal is technically feasible, and an Agreement to Initiate should be entered into. It is my belief that the tangible physical resources to be acquired, when accompanied by the intangible benefits of reduced, staged and partially relocated development, make this exchange worth moving forward on. If faced with the alternative of an easement grant, the Forest Service would receive none of these benefits.”
Based on the feasibility study, the Forest Service will start developing an environmental impact statement, with formal public input, before proceeding with the trade. At the same time, appraisers will evaluate the properties to see if they match in value, as required by federal law.
Conservation groups are wary of any development at Wolf Creek.
“After more than 25 years of controversy, the proposed Village at Wolf Creek project has never received the fair, transparent, and honest appraisal that the public deserves,” said Colorado Wild’s Paul Joyce. “The public deserves a fair, transparent, and honest appraisal of the Village’s impacts.
“Colorado Wild looks forward to the RGNF completing a thorough analysis of the Village and the proposed exchange, and continues believe that an honest appraisal will conclude the inappropriateness of Wolf Creek Pass for a large development, and ultimately lead the Forest Service to deny the land exchange,” Joyce said.
Based on an initial assessment of the Feasibility Analysis, Colorado Wild continues to have concerns that Mr. McCombs’ land exchange proposal is significantly out of balance, and unfair to the public.
According to the Feasibility Analysis and in careful review of the guidelines for a federal land exchange there appear to be numerous contradictions in the Forest Service decision to review this land exchange, most notably the fact that this area is highly valuable to the Canada lynx, a threatened and endangered species. The public interest guidelines suggest that the land exchange would complicate management and threatens the viability of the lynx population.
“While Colorado Wild continues to have concerns about the proposed exchange, we welcome a thorough consideration of the host of unresolved issues raised by citizens and local governments in the last decade. Potential impacts to recreation experiences associated with Wolf Creek Ski Area and surrounding USFS lands, questions about water quality and quantity, wetland impacts, power generation, social and economic impacts of the development to nearby communities and businesses, and the size and nature of highway interchange needed for access to Hwy 160 should all be addressed in the NEPA process,” Joyce said.
Filed under: Colorado, Ski Resorts Tagged: | Billy Joe "Red" McCombs, Colorado, Environment, Rio Grande National Forest, Ski resort, Summit County News, U.S. Route 160, United States, United States Forest Service, Village at Wolf Creek, Wolf Creek Pass, Wolf Creek ski area Wolf Creek Pass