FOWC groups filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday October 20th challenging the Forest Service’s April 3rd Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision authorizing two separate roads across public land to access the proposed “Village” at Wolf Creek. The lawsuit filed by Colorado Wild and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council also challenges recent Forest Service actions modifying their earlier decision to make it easier for the developer to begin construction.
The public has been waiting 20 years for the Forest Service to fulfill its lawful responsibility to analyze and disclose the impacts of this project on water, wildlife, traffic, and local businesses. Unfortunately, we had to bring this matter to court to force the agency to live up to its obligations to the public.
The lawsuit alleges that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal laws when it opted to ignore the impacts of the proposed Village and other forthcoming federal decisions in its April approval of two access roads. Blindly focusing on only the roads themselves, the Forest Service’s EIS adopted the developer’s legalese as its own, ignoring thousands of comments from citizens and government agencies alike who demanded that the agency take a hard look at the broad implications of its decision.
Nonetheless, the Forest Service decision apparently failed to satisfy the developer’s every desire. In July, the developer’s lobbyist in DC hand delivered a “discretionary review” request to his former timber industry colleague Mark Rey, now Undersecretary of the US Department of Agriculture overseeing the Forest Service. Despite the agency’s August 3rd acknowledgement that there is no legal authority for the agency to conduct a discretionary review, Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Peter Clark nonetheless signed a letter just weeks later that illegally modified the Record of Decision (“ROD”) by eliminating the requirement that the developer “construct, use, and maintain” both roads simultaneously in order to provide “sufficient emergency access.”
USDA officials apparently have a short memory, as documents show USDA officials and lawyers drafted Peter Clark’s letter less than three weeks after they determined that they had no authority to do so. The earliest versions of the letter may have been ghost drafted by the developer’s lobbyist himself, but the Forest Service has refused to make public documents that fill in the gaps.
The lawsuit filed Thursday also directly challenged Peter Clark’s August 28th letter, its legal basis, and the agency’s failure to involve the public in this new decision.
It is alarming that the public’s nearly 3,000 comments seem to have fallen on deaf ears, yet when the developer asks for a favor, federal officials go out of their way to respond. The courts are unfortunately the only venue where the public seems to get a fair hearing on this matter.
Prepared by the Western Environmental Law Center, the lawsuit aims to force the Forest Service to go back to the drawing board and conduct a through and legally sufficient analysis. We sincerely hope that the Forest Service will immediately cease implementation of their decision until the Court reviews this matter. If they refuse, we’ll be forced to ask the Court to stop the agency from moving forward.