For Immediate Release: July 14, 2015
Matt Sandler, Staff Attorney, Rocky Mountain Wild, email@example.com, 303-579-5162
Jimbo Buickerood, Public Lands Coordinator, San Juan Citizens Alliance, firstname.lastname@example.org, 970-259-3583, ext. 2 or 970-560-1111
Christine Canaly, Director, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, email@example.com, 719-589-1518
No Construction on Wolf Creek Pass until Lawsuit is Decided
Denver, CO – Conservation organizations, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture signed an agreement today that will stop all construction and development on two disputed land parcels at the top of Wolf Creek Pass in southwestern Colorado. The agreement will maintain the physical status quo on Forest Service and private land while a lawsuit filed by the conservation organizations works its way through Federal Court.
“This agreement ensures that the pristine nature of Wolf Creek pass is maintained while the Federal Court hears our challenge to the land exchange,” explains Matt Sandler, one of the attorneys who helped broker the deal. “The Forest Service and the developer agreed that they will not physically alter the condition of the land, and more importantly the agreement lays the groundwork for the parcels to be returned to their original ownership should we prevail in court.”
The land exchange gave Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture $70,000 and 205 acres of Forest Service land adjacent to U.S. Highway 160. In exchange, the Forest Service received 177 acres of a Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture private inholding within the boundaries of the Rio Grande National Forest. The exchange would give the developer expanded highway access needed to construct the “Village at Wolf Creek,” a development of condos, townhomes, hotels and retail stores for up to 8,000 people.
“Of course, we would have preferred for the Forest Service to do their job correctly and complete a transparent and thorough analysis on the environmental impacts of the proposed development,” states Jimbo Buickerood, Public Land Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “But given the situation, we feel that this agreement is the best option. It prohibits tree cutting and road building that the Durango Herald reported might have started this season.”
Conservation groups filed a lawsuit in Federal Court last month aimed at stopping the land exchange and ensuring that the Forest Service reveal and consider its full authority to protect the National Forest from the impacts of the proposed development. The lawsuit asserts that the Forest Service unnecessarily limited the scope of its environmental analysis to avoid fully analyzing the impacts that the development would have on National Forest land, and the Forest Service’s options to avoid those impacts. Additionally, the suit alleges that the Forest Service used a biased and conflicted review process to approve the exchange. Today’s agreement preserves the status quo so that all parties can avoid the substantial time and expense involved with preliminary injunction motions. It also moves the case toward a decision on the lawsuit’s merit .
“We are relieved that there will not be bulldozers on the pass until we have had our day in court,” states Christine Canaly, Executive Director of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council. “Wolf Creek Pass is such an important natural resource; for people, animals, and our communities. The outcry of support to save this area has been overwhelming, with more than 68,000 people signing our petition to the U.S. Forest Service. We are happy we could take this step in the right direction.”
The lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service was brought by: Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, and Wilderness Workshop. The Change.org petition can be found at: http://bit.ly/NoPillage
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