Draft environmental study available for review and comment
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service is looking to forge ahead with a controversial land trade at Wolf Creek Pass. The southwest Colorado swap could enable development of a new 1,500-unit residential village surrounded by national forest lands full of wetlands and critical to lynx and other sensitive species.
The agency this week released a draft environmental study for the land swap, outlining a preferred alternative that would trade about 204 acres of public land for 178 acres of private land. Read the draft EIS here.
“By design, the land exchange would result in a private land connection to Hwy 160 and, by default, a means to accommodate year-round vehicular access to the private land parcel owned by LMJV (Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture),” the Forest Service wrote in the draft Environmental Impact Statement.
The trade could result in development of a “mini-city of hotels, condos, private homes, parking garages, and retailers, with potentially devastating effects on wildlife habitat in the area, according to Rocky Mountain Wild, a Colorado conservation group that has led the Friends of Wolf Creek campaign for the past 10 years.
“A 10,000 person city on top of Wolf Creek Pass is still a bad idea, even if the Forest Service is required by law to consider it,” said Rocky Mountain Wild conservation director Josh Pollock.
“The Draft Environmental Impact Statement rightfully anticipates that construction of a big commercial development with hotels, condos, and parking garages is the point of such a land exchange, and therefore it tries to anticipate the many indirect and cumulative environmental effects that could come from such a development,” Pollock said.
According to the draft EIS, the maximum density development concept under Alternative 2 would include 1,511 condo, townhouse and single family units intended for the seasonal recreational market. The new development could attract as many as 830,000 new overnight visitors to the area, potentially generating more than $151 million in annual expenditures.
The land trade and subsequent development would be right in the middle of what biologists consider to be one of the single most important areas for endangered lynx in the entire state. According to the draft EIS, the Wolf Creek Pass area is critical to recovery of lynx statewide because it serves as the primary dispersal corridor from the core lynx area.
The area is also important for many other wildlife species.
The proposal has under consideration in one form or another since 2001, when developers first proposed building a resort village at the pass, adjacent to Wolf Creek ski area.
The owners of the inholding first applied to the Forest Service for access in 2001. In 2004, while the application was still pending, Mineral County approved a development plan for the parcel that was later vacated by a district court judge.
The county’s approval, along with the federal laws requiring the Forest Service to provide reasonable access to private inholdings, add layers of complexity to a story that reads a bit like John Nichol’s Milagro Beanfield War.
In 2006, the Forest Service authorized access but that decision was appealed and later challenged in federal court. In October 2007, U.S. District Court Judge John Kane put the entire process on hold.
The following year, the developers, opponents of the proposed development and the Forest Service reached a stipulated settlement that resulted in the Forest Service launching the new environmental analysis, which still seems to be headed for the same outcome.
The Forest Service will accept public comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the next 45 days. There will be three open-house meetings to provide the public an opportunity to learn more about the analysis and provide comments. The meetings will be held:
- Tuesday, August 28 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Creede Community Center, Forest Service Road 503, Creede, CO.
- Wednesday, August 29 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Aragon Recreation Center, 451 Hot Springs Boulevard, Pagosa Springs, CO.
- Thursday, August 30 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Rio Grande County Annex, 965 6th Street, Del Norte, CO.
Comments can be submitted in writing or by e-mail to: email@example.com. Please include “Village at Wolf Creek Access Project DEIS” in the subject line of the e-mail.
Written comments should be addressed to:
Village at Wolf Creek Access Project
c/o Tom Malecek, Divide District Ranger
Rio Grande National Forest
13308 West Highway 160
Del Norte, CO 81132
Filed under: Colorado, endangered species, Environment, public lands, recreation, US Forest Service Tagged: | Colorado, land trade at Wolf Creek, US Forest Service, Village at Wolf Creek, Wolf Creek Pass, Wolf Creek ski area