The Pagosa Daily Post
September 13, 2012

Clint Jones, the real estate developer from Austin, Texas who now serves as point man for the Leavitt-McCombs “Village at Wolf Creek” project, didn’t want to be videotaped by the Daily Post.  I can understand that.  The last time I wrote about Mr. Jones in the Daily Post — after a public presentation for the Pagosa Springs Town Council in 2009, the portrayal was not exactly flattering.  Perhaps Mr. Jones remembered that coverage.

But then, the situation in 2009 had been somewhat different.  At that time, the presentation was run by the Leavell-McCombs development team, and Mr. Jones and his assistants were trying to explain why a 2006 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) supposedly based on careful work by the U.S. Forest Service had, in fact, been written largely by the developers and simply handed over to the Forest Service.  And Mr. Jones was also trying to explain why the proposed “straight-across land swap” was going to provide the developers with less wetlands and more buildable acreage — at no extra cost.  And why the 2006 EIS did not address the full project build-out “impacts”, but only the “impact” of the short, proposed road leading from Highway 160 to the 288-acre Leavell-McCombs inholding.

2009 alternative Village at Wolf Creek

The 2009  ‘alternative’ Village at Wolf Creek proposal asked for the swap of 207 acres of Red McCombs’ original property, for 207 acres of U.S. Forest Service land to the north and abutting the highway.  The dark patches in the existing (blue colored) property is wetlands — land which presumably would be unbuildable.  Readers might notice the comparative lack of wetlands on the proposed swapped property.

That presentation in 2009 had resulted in a packed room at the County Fairgrounds, with generous attendance by members of the local “Friends of Wolf Creek” organization, and by the Durango-based Colorado Wild organization.  That is to say, most of the people in the room believed the proposed development, if approved, would result in the partial destruction of the largely pristine environment atop Wolf Creek Pass.  The negative results of the development, we believed, would be traffic problems, pollution, wetlands degradation, economic and demographic stress on Archuleta County and its fragile infrastructure, and undue pressure on the small, family-friendly Wolf Creek Ski Area we knew and loved.

You can read about the 2009 Leavell-McCombs plan in this archivedDaily Post article.

Last Wednesday’s presentation appeared somewhat different.  It was held in a relatively tiny room at the Ross Aragon Community Center.  The 567-page report appeared to have been carefully and thoroughly written by the U.S. Forest Service itself, and was readily available on DVDs. Very few opponents were present.  Representative Clint Jones and his team appeared contrite and cooperative.

The meeting was, in other words, absent most of the contention we witnessed three years ago.

Rio Grande NF MapAnother difference, perhaps.  In 2009, Pagosa Springs and Archuelta County were still talking about “coming out of the economic downturn, pretty soon now.”  In 2012, no one is predicting any kind of “community-wide economic revival” anytime soon.

But the subject of the August 29, 2012 meeting was basically the same as three years ago.  Leavell-McCombs Joint Ventures, the developers, were still asking for a land swap.  And they still had the law behind their request, after a fashion.  The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) seemingly requires the Forest Service to grant road access to an inholding, sufficient to service the uses projected for the inholding.  Leavell-McCombs — despite the shadowy circumstances behind the original land swap in 1986 — are legally permitted to have a road through federal land, to serve their project, if ANILCA applies to this project.

The proposed land swap would give the developers direct access along Highway 160… and that might make it easier to negotiate, with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), a new intersection.

At the hearing last month, we saw a dozen large maps and drawings, showing how the development might be built out — someday — with or without the proposed land swap.  There’s no doubt the development would have some economic and cultural impacts on Archuleta County, even though the property is located deep in the heart of neighboring Mineral County.  There’s no doubt the development would have significant impacts on the Wolf Creek Ski Area.  The proposed swap has changed slightly; instead of trading 207 acres for 207 acres, the swap now would give Leavell-McCombs new 204 acres in exchange for old 178 arces.  The new parcel would be located more to the northwest, and farther from the Wolf Creek Ski Area skiing terrain.

Private land, federal exchange land, and non-federal exchange land

Private land, federal exchange land, and non-federal exchange land

But the question we need to answer at the moment, it turns out, is not, “Shall we allow Leavell-McCombs to build some kind of large, mixed-use development in the middle of a federally-managed forest — with the possibility that such a development might cause significant economic, environmental and social problems?” … but rather a much more modest question, “Did the Forest Service do a good enough job analyzing two alternatives: to agree to a land swap, or not to agree to a land swap.”

Leavell-McCombs owns 288 acres.  We aren’t arguing that point.  Their inholding has no road access at the moment.  That’s a fact.

Our job, as competent citizens of the United States of America: read the 567-page report and make our comments about the proposed land swap by September 30.  Or we expect allow our local government leaders to do all the necessary work. Hmmm…

You can download the full report here.  We have 17 days left; let’s get to work…

%d bloggers like this: