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Opening Brief Filed in Lawsuit to Keep Wolf Creek Pass Wild
Media Contacts: Matt Sandler, Attorney, Rocky Mountain Wild, 303-579-5162 Travis Stills, Attorney, Energy and Conservation Law, 970-375-9231
Denver, CO – September 30, 2016 - A coalition of conservation organizations filed an opening brief yesterday in the United States District Court of Colorado as part of their lawsuit to stop a controversial land exchange on Wolf Creek Pass. The land exchange would pave the way for the development of a tourist “village” to accommodate 8,000 people at the top of the remote pass in southwestern Colorado. The land exchange, which was approved by Rio Grande Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas in May of 2015, would trade approximately 205 federal acres for 177 acres of private land within the boundaries of the Rio Grande National Forest. The land exchange connects Texas billionaire Red McCombs’ private land to U.S. Highway 160, thus securing year around vehicle access for this large scale development.
The brief outlines how the Forest Service unlawfully limited the scope of the environmental analysis it began in 2008 and avoided fully analyzing options that denied increased access and better served the public interest. Additionally, the brief asserts that a biased and conflicted review process was used by the Forest Service to approve the exchange. Information in the brief is based upon the review of over 100,000 pages of documents received through still-unresolved lawsuits that resulted in court orders forcing the Forest Service to release information under the Freedom of Information Act. '
The environmental analysis is part of a 2008 settlement agreement between conservation organizations, the Forest Service, and McCombs. The settlement invalidated a 2006 Forest Service decision that expanded access to the site. “The 2008 settlement requires preparation of a Environmental Impact Statement that fully analyzes Red McCombs’ plan to develop the so-called Village at Wolf Creek,” stated Travis Stills, attorney with Energy & Conservation Law who represents the conservation organizations. “Despite promises to carry out a lawful and transparent analysis of the landowner’s plans, the Forest Service produced an analysis of development concepts based on many of the same violations.”
“Putting together this case has been a long and arduous process,” stated Matt Sandler, Attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild. “The Forest Service erected road blocks at every juncture, forcing us to file suit to get information that should have been readily available to the public. Even though the Forest Service has refused to disclose records kept by the contractors who prepared the environmental analysis, we are confident our brief demonstrates to the Judge that this was a fatally flawed process.“
Defendants in the case now have 60-days to prepare and present their response to the Court. That will be followed by another 60-day period for the plaintiffs to file a reply brief. All documents and arguments are expected to be in the hands of Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch by February 2, 2017.
The lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service was brought by a coalition of conservation groups including Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council.
Here is the claim in its entirety: Wolf Creek Claim
Forest Service accused of "unlawful and piecemeal" review
in lawsuit seeking to block Village at Wolf Creek
From The Denver Post
"Rocky Mountain Wild, the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, the San Juan Citizens Alliance and Wilderness Workshop have battled for decades to block McCombs. The Forest Service rejected McCombs’ plan in the late 1980s but McCombs persisted. Opponents who consider the proposed Village at Wolf Creek one of southern Colorado’s greatest environmental threats, successfully sued to overturn a 2006 Environmental Impact Statement review and sued in U.S. District Court to overturn a third environmental review in 2015. McCombs agreed to delay construction while that lawsuit wound through federal court.
The opening brief in that lawsuit argues that the Forest Service was too narrowly focused when it reviewed the proposed land swap that enabled McCombs to connect his roughly 300 acres of land with U.S. Highway 160 on Wolf Creek Pass. The brief claims the agency was influenced by McCombs and the Forest Service was not transparent in its five-year review of the land exchange that traded 205 federal acres on the pass for 177 acres McCombs had gathered within the Rio Grande National Forest."
See the full article here: http://www.denverpost.com/2016/09/30/lawsuit-block-village-at-wolf-creek-forest-service/
President Obama has announced the designation of America’s 413th national park site, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The abundant wildlife, vast boreal forests, wild rivers, and history makes Katahdin Woods a great addition to our National Park System.
Check out the video: https://youtu.be/MheKSkj6Rww
“Water Tower Cleanup Attracts Volunteers, Demonstrates Community Resolve and Cooperation”
Thanks to a neatly organized team of community organizers, landowners, government leaders, and community members of all sorts and ages who donated their time on Saturday, August 13, the abused and trashy section of lands marking the southwest edge of Alamosa will see a significant portion of the unsightly dump piles accumulated over decades of neglect cleared out by the sweat and hard work of this small army of volunteers.
The cleanup effort was initiated as part of a USDA Rural Utilities Solid Waste Management Grant to the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council to address random dumping, waste transfer, and other problems in Alamosa and Saguache counties, with the area chosen as a highly visible place to demonstrate what can be accomplished with community resolve and all parties cooperating.
Billed as the “Adams State” Water Tower Trash Cleanup, the mix of volunteers and experienced equipment operators led by the Ecosystem’s Project Coordinator Kristina Crowder managed to gather up and fill three roll-offs with 7.5 tons of all types of discarded material destined for final disposal at the Regional Landfill west of Monte Vista.
Scattered over some 70 acres extending from the elementary school to the water tower on south Craft, trash included glass, plastics, metal, car parts, construction waste, paper, clothing, styrofoam, wood, rugs, couches, furniture, mattresses and just about any other unwanted item you can think of.
A total of 84 tires were also rounded up and hauled off to the nearby Ace In Your Pocket baling yards free of charge with disposal status recorded by Alamosa County’s Lynnea Rappold, SLV’s Environmental Health Director. A week before the cleanup John Manesiotis and Kyle Williams of WSB eRecyclers scouted the site and picked up 900 pounds of electronics valued at 50 cents per pound and processed at no charge.
About 25 persons in all participated, although more would have been appreciated for the extreme size and challenges of the area. Adding youthful energy to the group were Alamosa High School freshman Inez Herrera, Ortega Middle School seventh grader Damian Orozco, and Boy Scout William Krebs. Organizers were delighted to see youth representation at the cleanup in order for them to see first-hand the mess created by uncontrolled disposal behavior, and the educational imperative of leaving a clean and uncluttered environment for future generations.
Ecosystem Director Christine Canaly and Project Developer John Stump thanked the group for their participation, and the roles each person played in making the cleanup a success. The cleanup team also welcomed Ecosystem board members Beth Kinney and Joel Kaufman.
Della Vieira, Alamosa County Health Department Director, expressed safety concerns, particularly in the event any needles were uncovered in the trash. Canaly also thanked the Sheriff’s office for assigning a Deputy to the event.
None of this work could have been done without backhoe equipment and operator time donated to the project, and special recognition was given to Albert Griego of the County Road & Bridge Department, landowner Troy Duran of Dell’s Insurance, and landowner, rancher, and businessman LeRoy Martinez. Also pitching in from Alamosa County was Commissioner Helen Sigmond, and Charlie Griego represented the residents of his ward and the City of Alamosa.
Recognition also followed for Steve and Lisa Atencio; Brian Underwood, whose tent skills proved indispensable; David Topolewski, Conejos District Forest Service; and citizens Margie Clemmer, Gwendolyn Bauer, Lorraine Garcia, Paul Patterson and Dodie Day.
Roll-offs were provided by Alamosa Public Works Department Director, Pat Steenburg, using a “free day” for tipping fees at the landfill. Trinity Lutheran Church supplied table and chairs. Other suppliers making this possible at no cost included WSB eRecyclers; ASU Facilities; Alamosa Parks and Recreation; SLV Public Health; Mondragon’s Portable Toilets; Domino’s Pizza; City Market; and Safeway.
The area will continue to be monitored for dumping activity, and landowner Martinez plans to install signage and erect barriers to keep dumpers out. Residents near the area need to stay vigilant and report any suspicious illegal dumping activity to the Alamosa County Sheriff’s office. Look for vehicle descriptions and license plates. This is a public health risk that all citizens need to be concerned about. Illegal dumping attracts vermin that carry diseases and subject nearby neighborhoods to a greater risk of contact. USDA is an equal opportunity employer.
Before and after the Clean-up.
Volunteers load the front loader. with assorted garbage.
Damian Orozco & Inez Herrera represented the youth demographic.
San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council is a 501C3 non-profit corporation, which was incorporated in 1998 by a group of citizens concerned about impacts to public lands around the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
We believe in the power of education, stewardship, community involvement and public advocacy. Our mission is to protect and restore the biological diversity, ecosystems, and natural resources of the Upper Rio Grande region, balancing ecological values with human needs.
We have organized several different working groups, including the Friends of Wolf Creek, LEAP-HIGH Water Quality, the Solar Working Group, and others, which include over 100 volunteers. SLVEC has over 400 members, who give what they can in money, time, or expertise. Because of their dedication and support, we have enjoyed many successes in helping to protect this beautiful area. We are very grateful to all of them.
If you would like to get involved, please fill out a membership form, and mail it to:
San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, PO Box 223, Alamosa, Colorado, 81101