June 2015

Plan for rape and Pillage reignites opposition

By Peter Miesler

Up in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, below Wolf Creek Pass, an epic wetlands-preservation struggle has been going on.

The smoldering mess was reignited in May when the Rio Grande National Forest released its final decision regarding the Village at Wolf Creek Access Project (dubbed by some as the “Pillage at Wolf Creek”). This decision allows the exchange of 205 acres of prime Rio Grande National Forest, including some 1500 feet of highway frontage, for 177 acres of difficult-to-develop and landlocked property owned by the Leavell- McCombs Joint Venture. Talk about a smooth poker play.

You may wonder, what’s going on here? Well, it’s the same old story: Money don’t talk, it screams. At the heart of this battle is a Texan billionaire with a love for the real- estate poker game and a sick obsession with creating a fairytale Village at Wolf Creek. This so-called “village” would include condos, luxurygoods stores, and upscale restaurants – 10,000 people at 10,000 feet, it’s been dubbed. Sadly, his imagination is too filled with fantasies of thousands of rich and eager buyers flocking to the Colorado hinterlands to realize what he’s holding in his hand.

Just uphill we have the family-run Wolf Creek Ski Area, which is nestled in a great sweeping bowl up against USA’s Great Divide.

Here you’ll find some of the deepest powder skiing in Colorado.

The land also happens to collect a vast quantity of source waters for the interstate and international Rio Grande River. The owners of the ski area have been on-again, off-again players doing their best to minimize exposure, while remaining savvy to opportunities.

Opposing Mr. McCombs and his sacred mantra of “Development Trumps All” are Colorado grassroots groups such as the Friends of Wolf Creek, San Juan Citizens Alliance and San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council — all of whom have put up a spirited defense on behalf of the wetlands that have no voice.

This struggle has been going on for over two decades now.

To understand the opposition, you must understand that the targeted “parcel” is in Alberta Park. And Alberta Park happens to be the keystone of this great Wolf Creek Pass watershed. It’s where the land levels out and water seeps down deep on its short journey to the head waters of the Rio Grande. Alberta Park is an intricate wetlands of complex subsurface hydrology with thousand-year-old fens (peat-moss landscape) laced throughout. This community performs a myriad of biological functions while storing and filtering the water upon which the Rio Grande stakeholders depend.

Yet our developers’ attitude towards this natural resource is one of disinterested contempt as they attempt to explain how drainage ditches and a small-scale water-treatment plant will compensate for the destruction of this natural water-purification complex and the wildlife habitat that comes with it.

In defense of Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas and his decision, it must be pointed out that his options were severely restricted by statutory requirements and also by being forced to abide by an odd interpretation of the “Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act” of 1980. (Not to say there aren’t serious questions and objections being raised regarding this most recent EIS process.)

Alaska wilderness 1970-80s, Colorado in the 2010s – what’s the connection? What’s the reasoning here? Go fish... try finding a justification for that interpretation.

Why should ANILCA have standing in this particular Colorado situation? I believe a misuse of the law deserves being questioned. After all, the parcel was already landlocked within the long-established RGNF. The law was created to protect private lands within newly created Federal Land entities, thus I believe citizens have a right, if not a duty, to object to that interpretation.

In any event, now that the RGNF has decided to swap “parcels” and legal title goes to LMJV, the poker game moves on to the Mineral County Commissioners, located in Creede (population <500), the county’s only town, and a comfortable 40 miles from this ground zero.

Hopefully it’ll be different this time, because a decade or so ago, sorry to say, they were pushovers for the slick Texan with deep pockets.

Now it starts again and it’s going to take a lot of informed and active citizens to oppose the power of those deep pockets as LMJV continues their single-minded pursuit of their atrocious Village at Wolf Creek pipe dream.

On Saturday June 20, there will be a celebration at Wolf Creek Ski Area called “Honor Wolf Creek” and it will focus on appreciating this wonderland through art, poetry and music. For details check out PlanetExperts.com, hosts of the event.

I believe the event will help people from all over the state get acquainted and exchange ideas and perhaps come up with strategies on how to convince LMJV of the foolishness of their destructive development plan.

The ultimate goal is to return this priceless parcel back into the Rio Grande National Forest from whence it was torn. Can you join us?

Living near Durango, Colo., Peter Miesler maintains a blog dedicated to sharing scientific information and challenging climate-science contrarians at http://whatsupwiththatwatts.blogspot.com.