Federal judge denies developer a reconsideration

By: Mary Shinn, The Durango Herald
Friday, September 15

For the second time, a federal court blocked a land exchange that is key for the development of The Village at Wolf Creek.

Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture – spearheaded by Texas billionaire B.J. “Red” McCombs – is proposing more than 1,700 units that could house about 8,000 people near the Wolf Creek Ski Area.

This week, Judge Richard P. Matsch denied a request from lawyers representing the proposed development to reconsider a decision he issued in May.

“The Forest Service cannot abdicate its responsibility to protect the forest by making an attempt at an artful dodge,” Matsch wrote in his decision.

The agency tried to circumvent its obligation by relying on a law that requires it provide access to private land, he wrote.

Lawyers for Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture argued the Forest Service considered and rejected restricting the proposed development, as required by law.

The decision is the latest in a development saga spanning nearly 30 years, and it currently centers on Rio Grande Forest Service Supervisor Dan Dallas’ approval of a land exchange in 2015. The exchange gave developers land adjacent to U.S. Highway 160, and in the swap, the Forest Service received land that included wetlands below Wolf Creek Ski Area.

For two years, a coalition of environmental groups has challenged the Forest Service’s decision, arguing the agency unlawfully limited the scope of an environmental analysis and was unduly influenced by McCombs and his political pressure throughout the process.

The new order affirms the coalition’s position that the Forest Service did not analyze protections for natural resources and the Canada lynx, said Matt Sandler, an attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild, who worked on the case.

“I certainly let out a sigh of relief yesterday when I saw this come in and know we have this strong order that if they want to appeal, we can defend,” Sandler said.

Read more at The Durango Herald.