The Pagosa Daily Post
September 13, 2012

A significant body of prior research regarding mountain resort operations and mountain resort developments makes it clear that by drawing non-local visitation to a region, mountain resorts generate economic activity in the form of employment, wages/income and other dollar flows, tax revenues and services.— Chapter 4, Village at Wolf Creek Draft Environmental Impact Statement

The above quote comes from Section 4.13.2 of the newly released Village at Wolf Creek Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).  If you downloaded the 567-page report yesterday, then you’ve probably already read this section.

If you didn’t download the DEIS report previously, you can click here to do so. (It’s a very large file.)

If you can’t imagine reading a 567-page report about the environmental impacts of a development that will probably never happen in your lifetime, then I offer the following brief summary for your reading pleasure.

Which is not to imply that I have read the whole DEIS document.  That is definitely not the case; I mostly looked at the drawings and maps, and skimmed over a few of the written pages. I skimmed over the Glossary, for example.  You can learn a lot about an organization’s methods and intentions by finding out what terms they bothered to define, and how they defined them. Here are the first few entries in that section, which starts on page 515 and runs through page 527.

DEIS Glossary

You can download the DEIS Glossary here as a PDF.

From what I can tell from a cursory viewing, the Village at Wolf Creek DEIS rather carefully considers a large number of environmental, economic and social impacts.  It considers lynx habitat.  It considers dead and dying spruce trees, and the beetles responsible for that situation. It considers water rights.  It considers the appropriate place for a “school” within the proposed development.

Map of Proposed VillageBut let’s get down to the heart of the matter. How would this development affect my life?  Personally?  Isn’t that what most of us really care about?

The Forest Service DEIS proposes three scenarios for the property northwest of the Wolf Creek Ski Area.

Scenario One: Nothing at all happens.

Current Wolf Creek Pass view

Current Wolf Creek Pass view

Here’s how that would look, from atop one of the ski runs at the ski area.  (That is, this is how the scenery looks today.)

Given the current state of ski resort communities (bankruptcies, foreclosures, etc.) this might be the most likely scenario far into the future.  But let’s consider an economically brighter picture, since the Forest Service and Leavell-McCombs went to all this trouble.

Scenario Two: The Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture does a land swap with the federal government and then builds a maximum number of residential and commercial buildings at 10,000 feet elevation.  Here’s how the development might look:

Rendering of the Village at Wolf Creek

Rendering of the Village at Wolf Creek

This scenario would place the proposed development farther away from the Wolf Creek Ski Area than in Scenario Three, below.  The effect on the Wolf Creek Ski Area customer volume?  Maybe double the current traffic at peak times. The effect on the water quality of Pass Creek?  Uncertain; depends upon the amount of rainfall in a given year, the forest mortality from spruce beetles, and so on.  The effect on the scenery atop Wolf Creek Pass?  Yes, there is an obvious effect.

Scenario Three: There is no land swap, but Leavell-McCombs get legal road access to the 288 acres they currently own, and build a maximum number of residential and commercial buildings at 10,300 feet elevation.  Here’s how the development might look:

Rendering of the Wolf Creek without a Land Swap

Rendering of the Wolf Creek without a Land Swap

Looks something like Scenario Two, I’d say. According to the Forest Service, Leavell-McCombs have the legal right to build this scenario, if they can get all the necessary county, state and federal approvals.  And the effect on the Wolf Creek Ski Area, and water quality, and the economy, and forest health appears, from my cursory review, to be pretty similar to Scenario Two.

One of the maps showed the already-adjudicated water rights in the area

One of the maps showed the already-adjudicated water rights in the area

One of the maps showed the already-adjudicated water rights in the area.  I was impressed by the number of water rights owned by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB.)  That state agency seems to have established water rights all over the place on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass.  I’m not sure what importance this has to the Village at Wolf Creek.

So, my quick and dirty summary.

If I am a skier, it appears that the Village at Wolf Creek would have a significant impact on the lift lines at Wolf Creek Ski Area — assuming full build-out of he development, and assuming the ski area builds no additional lifts.

If I am a fisherman, it appears that sewage will be added to my enjoyment of Pass Creek.

If I am a realtor, it appears that full build-out might provide additional properties to sell.

If I am a Mineral County commissioner, it appears the development might be the largest city in my county, and provide a surprising and delightful flood of tax revenues, for which I will have to provide various County services in one of the snowiest places in America.

Near the end of the 567-page report, the Forest Service discusses the possible economic impacts on the three Colorado counties in the area.  When I attended the DEIS rollout at the Ross Aragon Community Center on August 29, I ran into Archuleta commissioner Michael Whiting.  He told me he was looking forward to reviewing the economic impact section of the report (for those of you with a copy, it starts on page 409…)

Mr. Whiting was the only elected leader I ran into at the August 29 presentation.  I didn’t see anyone from the Town government; I didn’t see anyone from the County or Town planning commissions, or from the Town Tourism Committee, or from the Airport Advisory Committee, or from the Parks & Recreation Open Space & Trails Committee, or from the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation.

I saw a few realtors, and a bunch of skiers. And of course, Peter Miesler, the consummate critic of this slightly unbelievable project.  You can visit Peter’s website here.

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