Wolf Creek village heads to court

The inevitable happened this week, as the "Vail-sized city" proposed for the base of Wolf Creek Ski Area prompted a lawsuit. Colorado Wild, a Durango-based conservation group, has sued the Rio Grande National Forest, alleging a break of contract. The chapter of the Forest Service recently released a draft environmental impact statement on the development proposal.

A Texas development company, headed by Clear Channel Radio baron and Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs, has pitched the "Village at Wolf Creek" for 287.5 acres at the base of the Alberta quad. The "village" would include 2,172 units on 162 lots, 5,176 bedrooms and 222,100 square feet of commercial space including 12 restaurants, multiple hotels and a convention center.

A group called Friends of Wolf Creek has formed to oppose the plan and includes representation from Colorado Wild, San Juan Citizens' Alliance, the American Lands Alliance and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, among others. This week, Colorado Wild fired a shot at the Rio Grande National Forest. According to the group's executive director, Jeff Berman, the Forest Service signed a 1999 agreement in exchange for Colorado Wild dropping its appeal of a new lift and parking lot at Wolf Creek Ski Area. "Our 1999 agreement requires the Forest Service to complete an environmental analysis and take public input prior to granting access for this massive development," Berman said. "Yet in a March 11, 2004, letter to the Village at Wolf Creek developer, the Forest Service violated our agreement."

Berman alleged that the Forest Service is under political pressure to complete the EIS and grant McCombs year round access before the inauguration of new Mineral County commissioners, members of Congress, and the presidency.He added that the EIS disregards public concerns despite overwhelming opposition.

"It is no secret that the developers are applying tremendous and inappropriate political pressure to gain the sought-after access before the political powers at hand may change," said Chris Canaly, of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council. "This is a completely inappropriate utilization of Forest Service staff and resources, and ultimately taxpayer dollars."

The March 11 letter to McCombs invites the developer to access inholding. Stephen Harris, attorney for Colorado Wild, noted, "The Forest Service grant of access on March 11 flatly contradicts the 1999 settlement."

Telluride reaches out to LA

On the other side of the region, Telluride Ski Resort has announced that it's going for the gold this winter. The resort has set a lofty goal of 400,000 skier days this winter, approximately 20,000 higher than its previous record, and it is targeting Los Angeles to make it happen.

Under the new ownership of the California-based Horning family, Telluride appears to be tracking a different course than before. Among the new initiatives is a binge of magazine advertising that promotes Telluride as "Fantasy Mountain." The ski area has also negotiated nonstop, daily jet service from LA to Telluride

"We're focusing our marketing dollars in the key cities this year, and we now have daily service coming in from LA on a regional jet," said Pete Woods, vice-president of sales and marketing. "This makes a fly-in from Southern California effortless."

In the past, Southern California has accounted for 5.6 percent of Telluride's skier days, well behind New York, the largest contributor of skier days at 14 percent. "I think if we can raise the Southern California numbers at least 1 to 3 percent, we're looking good," Woods said.

First rifle season gets under way

Blaze orange returned to the region last Saturday with the opening of Colorado's first rifle elk season, and hunters are optimistic courtesy of cool, wet weather. The Colorado Division of Wildlife is hoping the optimism pays off, wanting a reduction in the estimated elk population of 279,000 animals.

"We continue to make progress in reducing Colorado's abundant elk herds as a way of improving the long-term health of these animals and their habitats," said John Ellenberger, DOW big game coordinator. "And we will continue to issue a large number of cow and either-sex licenses to further reduce herds."

This year, hunters might have a significant advantage if cool, wet weather persists. For the past several years, hunter success has been hindered by drought, which cause elk to congregate in cool, dark timber, making them more difficult to track.

Hunter success rates for this year's archery season were about normal.

Still, there is always the possibility of too much of a good thing. Heavy snow or rain during the rifle seasons, which last through early November, also can drive down hunter success rates. DOW biologists are hoping that the 2004 season will have the right amount of precipitation to keep success rates high and equal or crest the 2003 harvest.

County land use code revised

The rules guiding development in La Plata County have undergone massive revision. This week, the La Plata County commissioners took a look at a draft of the revised La Plata County Land Use Code, and the public will have opportunity to comment on the draft in coming months.

"The concern we had was that the regulations were difficult to use," said Nancy Lauro, community development director. "We wanted to improve the efficiency of the development review process and as a result the quality of development in La Plata County."

Lauro added that the revisions should help the county to require more public benefit from developments, including open space, clustering, affordable housing and amenities. "They've only been encouraged standards,' and we haven't been able to require them," she said. "The good developers did them, but there wasn't a level playing field. The revision takes a lot of the public benefit standards and makes them requirements."

The draft, which is the product of two years of work, can be viewed at http:// www.co.laplata.co.us.

compiled by Will Sands





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