On November 21, 2014, after years of deliberation and almost a year of delay, the Forest Service finally released its decision on the land exchange at Wolf Creek pass. Against the recommendations of the conservation community and the desires of many residents of the surrounding towns, the Forest Service decided to approve the land exchange, essentially giving the go ahead for the development of a Vail sized city at the top of the pass. This decision, which was handed down right before the holiday season, gave opponents just 45 days to review all documents and prepare any objections to the decision.
But, working over the holidays isn’t the only obstacle we face in preparing a comprehensive objection. In a move that would make Scrooge smile, the Forest Service has continued to withhold documents, miss deadlines, and erect barriers to our efforts. In February of this year, we submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Service for documents and communications related to the village development. The Service withheld hundreds of records, and has disregarded our administrative appeal of this action; requiring Rocky Mountain Wild to enforce our statutory rights in Federal District Court. When pressed in Court earlier this month about a schedule for addressing this issue, the attorney for the Forest Service admitted that we won’t be getting this information any time soon. Apparently federal employees have holidays and pre-scheduled vacations at this time year and thus can’t be expected to get us the documents needed to complete our review.
A second FOIA request that we submitted to the Forest Service on November 20, 2014, has also been ignored. Information from that request was statutorily due on December 19 and is critical for public review. As of today, our mailbox remains empty.
Oh, and let’s not forget that the Forest Service website containing all of the documents on this decision has been off line part of this week with the message “Unknown Project – – No data is available for this project.”
And so, the Forest Service has tasked us (the public) with working over the holidays to prepare our objections despite holding back the very documents we need to review to prepare those objections. Holidays? Time with family? Freedom of Information? Government transparency? Bah humbug!
Given all of this Federal foot dragging the Friends of Wolf Creek coalition (consisting of Rocky Mountain Wild, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, and San Juan Citizens Alliance) was forced today to formally ask the Forest Service for a 45-day extension to prepare our objection. We are hopeful that someone may still be in the federal offices to reply. It is not too late for warmer hearts to prevail within the Forest Service. Perhaps a ghostly intervention will result in the release of information and an extension that allows the public to enjoy their holidays and pre-scheduled vacations.
We know one stop that Santa can skip this year, unless…