By: Peter Miesler, The Durango Telegraph
September 20, 2012

Speak up on Village at Wolf Creek

To the editor,

“You believe what you believe, I believe what I believe and we will never convince each other” period!” Those were the sage words of Clint Jones, the developer for Red McCombs’ speculative luxury Village at Wolf Creek when we spoke at last month’s Del Norte open house for the Village’s land exchange proposal’s Environmental Impact Statement.

What a chilling attitude. It implies the impossibly of learning anything new. It also explains how the 1980s dream of a billionaire could get hardened into an obsession no matter how the winds of time have changed the physical and financial landscape.

A dream that started in those halcyon ’80s when Red partnered with Charles Leavell, owner of land the Rio Grande National Forest coveted. With that temptation and announced plans for a low-key development of perhaps 200 homes, a land trade for nearly 300 acres of Alberta Park was arranged.

Then Leavell passed away and McCombs hired developer Bob Honts, who announced a plan 10 times that size. In his zeal, Honts crossed various ethical and legal boundaries. Worse, he got caught, scuttling Red’s first drive to develop Alberta Park. It also ended Honts’ association with McCombs.

There’s too much to tell here, but for an informative synopsis, check out Denver Post writer Mike Soraghan’s article, “Wolf Creek development tangled with political ties,” (2/5/06).

Given a development of a couple hundred homes, the Forest Service was under the impression that road access issues could be resolved. But, a village for 10,000 people blindsided officials and created a whole set of complications, since the Forest Service has every desire of keeping the only access road, FSR391, a seasonal, light traffic dirt road.

In time, McCombs’ lawyers found the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. The property owner’s road access provisions in this Act were codified4 because huge expanses of Alaskan land was being acquired and placed into the national trust. This left many private land owners surrounded by federal lands. This law ensured land owners road access rights to their newly landlocked property.

What is striking is that McCombs traded into his “landlocked” situation.

But, because he is a billionaire, Red can force his will. Now the Forest Service is in a position of thinking they owe McCombs a high volume, all-year road or they owe him damages. This doesn’t make any sense considering that Red knew exactly what he was buying. Still, his demand is: either a high- traffic, all-year road or we owe him big. In this case, big being a swap of 178 acres of Red’s land for 204 acres of prime, Grade A U.S. highway-accessible real estate.

Incomprehensible though it seems, this is exactly the rationale driving this current Environmental Impact Statement and potential land swap. An Environmental Impact Statement that remains blind to the many cascading damages that bulldozing of this watershed will inflict.

During my discussion with Mr. Jones at the Del Norte open house, I asked: what about the changing world, both business and environmental, that are making this 1980s dream look increasingly financially hopeless?

“None of us can predict the future” was his easy salesman’s reply.

I asked, what about climate change and scientists’ projections that current drought conditions are a sign of more to come; or the bark beetle epidemic that’s ravaging those mountains and is spreading right into Alberta Park as we spoke? Is it really that hard to predict prospective million dollar home buyers will be turned off by a standing dead forest?

“None of us can predict the future” seems a feeble response when it comes to the importance of an unmolested watershed for downstream stakeholders. After all, we are discussing the health of source waters for the Rio Grande River Basin during increasingly difficult times.

Do you think Red’s VWC sounds like a disaster for Alberta Park and the Rio Grande River Basin? For a review of the flaws in the VWC Land Exchange Proposal #35945’s DEIS – there are also links to the official RGNF comment page.

Please, if you are a Friend of Wolf Creek, get informed now. These next few days are the only time your voice carries legal weight! RGNF officials need to hear thoughtful objections and alternatives. They’ll never hear you if you don’t tell them!

– Peter Miesler, Durango

Read more at The Durango Telegraph.

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