Village at Wolf Creek
Village at Wolf Creek:
FOR THE LATEST NEWS AND DEVELOPMENTS ON THE VILLAGE please go to the Friends of Wolf Creek web site
Prior to August 2012
For over a dozen years SLVEChas worked to protect sensitive habitat threatened by a massive development with 2,172 housing units on Wolf Creek Pass just below the Continental Divide at 10,800 feet in altitude. The 288 acre tract adjoining the family owned and operated Wolf Creek Ski Area was acquired by Texas billionaire “Red” McCombs in 1986 through a questionable land exchange transaction.
Following a court decision (filed by Colorado Wild and SLVEC) in 2008 the ruling judge declared that the Rio Grande National Forest Service must do another EIS without outsourcing the assessment work as was originally done.
In the fall of 2009, the developer was back with a new, scaled down version of the Village. The McCombs group are now requesting a 207-acre land exchange next to the current in-holding, wanting to transfer their current wetlands property for 207 acres of spruce forest with highway frontage. This new proposal includes 1,711 units to be constructed in 8 phases, beginning with 492 units. This new piece of property,directly adjacent to Highway 160, would remove the obstacle of highway access.
In Spring 2011, the Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) began a NEPA public review scoping process which initiated a feasibility study which officially proposes this “Village at Wolf Creek” land exchange. This process will determine the scope of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that will be prepared by anenvironmental consultant and due to come out in July 2012, managed by the RGNF and paid for by Red McCombs. Mr. McCombs is asking for the RGNF to exchange 178 of his wetland acres for 204 old growth spruce acres that belong to the USFS. SLVEC, with partners Rocky Mountain Wild and Citizens for Responsible Development have organized citizens on both sides of Wolf Creek Pass through this NEPA scoping process. Outstanding issues highlighted include water and utility availability, highway safety, wetland protection, wildlife corridor protection, and protection of the Rio Grande late season flow.
Considering that Mr. McCombs current property has easements that restrict his developments and that he has no legal access to his property for this development, his property is “valueless” as a proposed site for a village of 8,000-10,000 people. The property he wants to trade for has highway access and is not necessarily restricted by easements. It is stated in the feasibility study that Mr. McCombs could make up the difference in the values of the two properties with cash (this is the policy with regards to land exchanges if the value of the two properties are seen to be a difference of 25% or less).
The RGNF has decided that one of the alternatives in the EIS will be access granted to Mr. McCombs original property, so that it’s possible that he can “go back to plan A”. The RGNF has said that whatever alternative is chosen, the end goal, being the proposed village, must be a consideration. How they analyze the Village in either a land exchange or granting road access for Plan A is where we will be focusing all of our efforts. The big question is “Will this be in the public’s interest?”
Even at the abbreviated phase one build-out, 491 units, it would have a serious impact on resources. Should it go through as presently proposed, it would impact the ecological values that currently exist. The development would have serious impacts on wildlife, as it sits directly in the middle of an important wildlife migration corridor between the South San Juan and Weminuche Wilderness Areas. In 2004, a joint study involving state patrol, a car rental company and Center for Native Ecosystems found this section of Highway 160 to be one of a dozen major Wildlife Linkage/Migration Corridors in the state. Highway 160, at this point, is a narrow, curving road with cliffs on either side. The increased traffic on this stretch of highway would surely result in a much higher percentage of animal-auto accidents. The area is home to a number of threatened and endangered species, including the recently re-introduced Canadian Lynx.
The developers have identified nearby Pass Creek as the major water source for the project, and their previous plan committed to storing water in 7 tanks (diameter of 200 ft., 26 ft tall) holding 6 million gallons each. Pass Creek is at the headwaters of the Rio Grande; what affects Pass Creek affects this major river system. At present, no clear plan is in place for sewerage disposal or containment of run-off.
Plan, Goals, and Objectives: SLVEC will mobilize citizens to respond to the Feasibility Study decision, and advocate against the land exchange at the proposed location. A site visit at Wolf Creek planned by the Forest Service took place in September 2011 and over 125 citizens, resource personnel, developer advocates and media participated. The citizens and media were very informed and asked excellent questions. The public inquired about impacts to Pass Creek and the surrounding watershed. SLVEC plans to advocate for a thorough EIS analysis of the water delivery system, research of prior-appropriation and other case law applied to the area, the sewerage disposal plan, and the impacts to downstream wildlife and water users, as well as impacts on the Rio Grande main-stem.
SLVEC and Rocky Mountain Wild met with the Colorado State Engineer’s office to understand the consumptive use of Pass Creek, and the adequacy of McComb’s plans to meet the needs of his proposed development as well as wildlife needs and the rights of downstream water users. The Forest Service and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) have in-stream flow rights above and below Pass Creek. SLVEC will direct the Forest Service and state to develop in-stream flow protection plans through the EIS, include research of peak demand to ensurethat requirements of their water decree are met.
Evaluation: SLVEC still advocates for a public buy out, returning this property back into public lands. The Forest Service is also receptive to this option pending Joint Venture response to the Land Exchange analysis. An exchange for land at a lower elevation closer to public services and without the extreme impacts to wildlife would also be an acceptable outcome. Discussions with Rocky Mountain Wild have also contained the possibility of analyzing the original RGNF 1986 Environmental Assessment recommendation which proposed a maximum 110 units, but we are presently nowhere near this type of analysis or negotiation.
The Rio Grande National Forest is proposing one of two actions, either one of which at full build-out would allow a city of up to 8,000 people ("Wolf Creek Village") to be built on a private inholding adjacent to the Wolf Creek Pass Ski Area. Wildlife-including Canadian Lynx, water quality and quantity, scenery, impacts to recreation experiences associated with Wolf Creek Ski Area, the surrounding USFS lands, Weminuche Wilderness, wetland impacts and Rio Grande cutthroat trout would be significantly degraded by the proposed Village.
This time Mr. McCombs is asking for the RGNF to exchange 178 of his acres for 204 acres that belong to the USFS, adjacent to Hwy 160. Considering that Mr. McCombs property has easements that restrict his developments and that he has no legal access to his property for this development, his property is not suitable as a proposed site for a village of 8,000 people. Remember, the property he wants to trade for has highway access and is not necessarily restricted by easements. In the feasibility analysis (attached) it was stated that Mr. McCombs could make up the difference in the values of the two properties with cash! (This is the policy with regards to land exchanges if the difference in appraised value of the two properties differs by no more than 25%).
The RGNF has decided that another one of the alternatives in this EIS will be to grant access across national forest land to Mr. McCombs property so that he can “go back to plan A”, his original plan!
The RGNF has said that whatever alternative is chosen, the end goal, being the proposed village, must be a consideration. How much they consider the Village in either a land exchange or granting road access for Plan A is a very important consideration.
After more than 25 years of controversy, the proposed Village at Wolf Creek project has never received the fair, transparent, and honest analysis regarding impacts that the public deserves. We believe that an honest evaluation would cause fair-minded people to conclude that the huge development is most inappropriate for Wolf Creek Pass, and ultimately, the Forest Service needs to be encouraged to get McCombs’ property back into public ownership via purchase or exchange.
Consider making some or all of the following points when you write your letter to public officials:
- Describe your use of the Wolf Creek Pass area and your relationship to the region and its resources.
- Describe how the development of a city of up to 8,000 people at Wolf Creek Pass would adversely affect your interests (aesthetic, recreational, economic, health, etc.)
- Ask the Forest Service to consider a full range of alternatives in the EIS including returning the property to the public via a land exchange or buyout.
- Request that the Forest Service enforce the scenic easement that the public owns on McCombs’ property which restricts industrial facilities, prevents storage of hazardous materials, and allows the Forest Service to review and approve (or deny) land use proposals for the property.
- Request that the Forest Service complete a thorough analysis of all of the projects’ impacts including, but not limited to: water quality, water quantity, wildlife-Endangered Species, wetlands, traffic, air quality, socio-economic impacts, public safety, emergency services, utilities and more.
- Remember, the "no action" alternative is always a consideration!
Since 1999, Colorado Wild/SLVEC's Friends of Wolf Creek campaign has fought to preserve a critical wildlife corridor, threatened species, wetlands, air quality, scenic and recreational resources on the Continental Divide, and the integrity of nearby Wilderness areas in the Southern Rockies from a massive development proposal at Wolf Creek Pass. Squeezed between the South San Juan Wilderness Area – the Southern Rocky Mountains’ wildest – and the Weminuche Wilderness Area – Colorado’s largest – the habitat along Wolf Creek Pass forms the headwaters of both the Rio Grande and San Juan Rivers and serves as a critical ecological and recreational linkage. Yet out-of-state developers with little knowledge of high altitude conditions and values are proposing the “Village” at Wolf Creek, a city of up to 8,000 people at the top of the Pass. This intense development in an otherwise undeveloped area entirely surrounded by National Forest would dramatically impact the entire region.
After years of foiled attempts to circumvent the public process, and millions spent on politically manipulated approvals, the Friends of Wolf Creek have successfully overturned every permit thus far acquired by the developer. This saga to protect one of Colorado’s prized landscapes continues to be made possible thanks to the dedication and generosity of thousands of committed citizens. For More information, see: www.friendsofwolfcreek.org
2. TAKE ACTION: Write a Letter to the Editor
We need to continue to spread the word about the “Pillage” at Wolf Creek, and expand our network of concerned activists. Consider writing a Letter to the Editor (usually under 300 words), or call your local paper and ask if you can submit a full editorial (usually around 700 words). Either is a great way to reach out to the public and share your concerns. Feel free to contact us at Colorado Wild if you want any help with your letter.
3. TAKE ACTION: Contact Your Elected Officials
Friends of Wolf Creek have had outstanding support from elected officials at the local, state and federal level. As the Forest Service initiates a new EIS process, it is critical that we re-engage our elected officials, and ask for their help. Beginning with Colorado’s Congressional Delegation, we encourage you to contact:
- Congressman Scott Tipton
Alamosa office: (719) 587-5105
- Tipton website
- Senator Cory Gardner
503 N. Main Street, Suite 426
Pueblo, CO 81003
Phone: (719) 543-1324
Fax: (202) 228-7174
- Senator Michael Bennet
San Luis Valley Office
609 Main Street, Suite 110
Alamosa, CO 81101
Ask each for their continued leadership on this issue. Specifically, request that they:
- Request that the Forest Service conduct public hearings, not just “open house” meetings, to solicit public comments.
- Request that the Forest Service complete a thorough analysis of all of the project’s impacts including, but not limited to water quality, water quantity, wildlife, wetlands, traffic, air quality, socio-economic impacts, public safety, and more.
- Request that the Forest Service consider a full range of alternatives in the EIS including return of the property to public ownership.
Please also contact your local and state elected officials. You can find their contact information
Jim Turnbull, Citizens for Responsible Development (Creede) (719) 658-2410 or visit friendsofwolfcreek.org also www.fs.usda.gov/riogrande
Forest official updates status of Wolf Creek Access EIS
Judge Protects Rio Grande National Forest Halts road construction to proposed “Village at Wolf Creek”
Colorado Court of Appeals rejects appeal by Wolf Creek developers
March 22, 2007 - Village at Wolf Creek (VWC) Update