In another key strategic victory for the Friends of Wolf Creek, on September 20th, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the decision by District Court Judge O. John Kuenhold, overturning the plat approval by the Mineral County Commissioners for the proposed Village at Wolf Creek. Colorado Wild and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, along with the privately-owned Wolf Creek Ski Area, had originally brought the lawsuit over the development approval in late 2004.

In rejecting the developer’s appeal of that lower-court decision, the Court called the developer’s legal argument that it need not demonstrate proper vehicle access to its land “absurd and unreasonable.” The Court further stated that the Mineral County Board of Commissioners “abused its discretion in granting final approval, because the record contains no evidence of year-around access to the state highway system at the time of final approval.”

The Court applied a solid legal analysis in affirming the lower court. You simply cannot approve such a massive development without having done your homework. In this case, that means having a viable access route up front.

We are relieved by the Court’s ruling. Watching this massive development get rushed through the planning commission in Mineral County back in 2004, and giving very little time for the public or decision makers to actually absorb the magnitude of this proposal, was alarming. Fortunately, the Courts have held them accountable to the law. Now, if the developer wants to revive this project, they will need to demonstrate access and go back through the County process the right way.

But demonstrating access is no simple matter. The developer has been playing a shell game with federal and state agencies, working to play one regulatory approval off of another to fast track the process. Despite having been ruled illegal by Judge Kuenhold in October of 2005 (and now found illegal again), the US Forest Service relied on Mineral County’s approval of the Village development plan when it granted access last year. As with the Colorado Court of Appeals, we are hopeful that the Federal District Court will also see through the developer’s scheme to rush approval of this project by making similarly absurd and unreasonable claims that the Village could be built without new access roads. Those claims became the foundation of the Forest Service EIS, and the agency’s excuse for ignoring the project’s impacts.

The separate lawsuit filed by Colorado Wild and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council challenging the Forest Service’s April 2006 access approval remains in front of US District Court Judge John Kane in Denver. We do not expect resolution of that case until some time this winter at the earliest.