60,000 pages of correspondence shows Forest Service deleted e-mails, corresponded through lawyers to avoid public eye

By: Jason Blevins, The Denver Post
January 21, 2016

A team of environmental groups opposing a nearly 30-year-old plan to develop a village on Wolf Creek Pass says it has evidence that U.S. Forest Service officials tried to conceal documents related to the agency’s review of the controversial project.

Among nearly 60,000 pages of correspondence that a U.S. District Court judge in Denver ordered released, opponents of The Village at Wolf Creek found a note from a Forest Service district ranger urging staff to delete e-mails. Another e-mail told staff to correspond via the agency lawyer so transmissions could be excluded from public access through attorney-client privilege. A note from a Forest Service regional boss warned local staff that Texas billionaire Red McCombs could start calling in favors in Washington if the environmental review of the 1,700-home village proposed in 1986 continued at a slow pace.

Forest Service spokesman Lawrence Lujan declined to discuss the documents, citing agency policy prohibiting comment on pending litigation.

The Forest Service in May approved a controversial land swap that gave McCombs a key link from his land to U.S. 160 over Wolf Creek Pass, and delivered 177 acres of important wetlands on the pass to the agency.

The swap marked the closest McCombs has ever gotten to his goal to build an 8,000 person village. The Forest Service rejected the plan in the late 1980s, but the village was inexplicably resurrected by officials in Washington. Environmentalists got a second Environmental Impact Statement review overturned in 2006 and sued to overturn the third review last year, arguing the Forest Service failed to conduct a thorough review of the impact of the land swap.

That lawsuit also argues that the Forest Service review was plagued by “unlawful political interference and influence” by the now 88-year-old McCombs.

Read the full article at The Denver Post.


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