Village access triggers lawsuit

The Village at Wolf Creek is stepping back into the courtroom. Last week, the Regional Office of the Forest Service upheld the Rio Grande National Forest’s March 15 decision to authorize two separate access roads across public land to the massive development near the Wolf Creek Ski Area. The opposition now plans to take the fight to the next level and file a lawsuit.

The Village at Wolf Creek is not directly affiliated with the Wolf Creek Ski Area, which is widely recognized as a sleepy, no-frills, family-run operation. Still, a Texas development company, funded by former Minnesota Vikings owner and Clear Channel Radio baron Red McCombs, is looking to capitalize on the ski area. The group has proposed developing 287.5 acres, located just east of Wolf Creek Pass at the base of the Alberta lift and acquired in a 1989 land exchange with the Forest Service. The “village” would include 2,172 new units of housing and 222,100 square feet of commercial space. As part of the plan, 12 new restaurants, several hotels and a convention center would be built on the meadow. As many as 10,000 people could occupy the development at build-out.

In mid-March, the Rio Grande National Forest removed a stumbling block to the massive development when it authorized access to the parcel. At the time, Peter Clark, Rio Grande National Forest supervisor, commented, “Not granting access was never on the table and never considered … I consider it reasonable to develop a resort next to an existing ski area.”

Last week, Deputy Regional Forester Greg Griffith affirmed this decision and shut down administrative appeals from Colorado Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council. Among other things, Griffith cited that McCombs is entitled to access to exercise “reasonable use and enjoyment of his private property.” Griffith also deferred to Mineral County as to the manner in which McCombs’ property is developed.

Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild, expressed relief with the decision, saying the appeal process is little more than lip service, and that now the opposition can get down to business.

“The administrative appeal process is just another hoop that the public is forced to jump through before they are able to get a fair hearing on this matter in court,” he said. “Given that we are dealing with a Forest Service that forced Colorado Wild to spend 12 months in court to view public documents that had been handed to the developer more than a year earlier, we are not surprised that the agency has affirmed its own decision.” Meanwhile, the USDA inspector general is still looking into the developer’s political influence over the Forest Service review process.

“This decision is an opportunity more than anything else,” Bidwell said. “The public has been waiting for 20 years for their government to take a hard look at the threat posed by the Village to their water, wildlife, local economies and way of life. Freed from the tainted administrative process of the Forest Service, we look forward to the court taking a fresh look at the evidence.”

Tribe unveils new casino plans

Gaming is going big in La Plata County. Following years of study, discussion and review, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe announced this week that it will develop a new casino just north of Ignacio.

The tribe’s plans include a 45,000-square-foot casino with up to 700 slot machines, 20 table games, a 200-seat bingo hall, a 24-lane bowling center, day-care facilities, multiple restaurants, and administrative offices. Also included are plans for a 150-room hotel with pool and sun deck, several retail spaces, a small fitness center as well as a convention space that will be able to accommodate up to 2,000 people with the capacity for breakout rooms to handle a variety of events. To accommodate families visiting the proposed development, the bowling center and an arcade will be separate from the gaming floor. Outdoor venues are also planned for the area around the development, including numerous walking paths, an amphitheater for pow-wows and other cultural events, and a miniature golf course. When finished, the entire development is intended to encompass approximately 300,000 square feet of usable space. The facility will be built near the intersection of Highway 172 and County Road 517.

AmerIndian, a firm from Saint Paul, Minn., is the project architect in conjunction with Leo A. Daly, headquartered in Las Vegas. Leo A. Daly is a leader in casino design, having recently worked on the pueblo of Sandia Casino Resort in Albuquerque, and Casino Arizona in the Scottsdale/ Phoenix area. Parsons-3D/I, out of Albuquerque, has been selected as the project manager. Parsons-3D/I projects include the 9-R school district construction as well as the Pueblo of Sandia Casino resort.

The tribe envisions that the new facility will be the premier gaming establishment in the Four Corners and has a projected opening date in the spring of 2008.

Winter sports form foundation

Winter sports recently gained strength in the Durango area. The Durango Nordic, Freestyle and Alpine ski teams recently merged to form the Durango Winter Sports Foundation. The foundation’s mission is the introduction, development, training and support of youth interested in winter sports.

Approximately 150 male and female athletes currently participate on the three teams, with participation increasing substantially every year. “Each of our teams is having tremendous success in learning and in competition, but we have all realized that combining forces is necessary to take our programs to the next level,” said Mike Elliott, president of the Durango Nordic Club.

The new foundation, which is not affiliated with DMR, will be an umbrella association made up of the two existing nonprofit organizations, the Durango Nordic Club and the Purgatory Ski Team. The new foundation will focus on several activities, including dry land training, trampoline programs, summer camps, Chapman Hill improvements, school programs and year round fund-raising events.

The foundation will be approaching individuals and businesses in the Four Corners Region for sponsorships and support. The foundation will look to grow awareness of current fund-raising events and also introduce sponsors to existing on snow activities. The group also plans to support efforts to bring snowmaking to the Chapman Hill Ski Area.

“Friends, colleagues and community leaders are warned,” Elliot concluded. “We will be writing, calling and knocking on your doors for support.”

Lightning triggers local wildfires

With rain comes lightning, and courtesy of recent storms, more than 20 fires popped up Monday afternoon in Southwest Colorado, primarily in Montezuma County.

Fires and/or smoke were reported on Montezuma County, Ute Mountain Ute, Bureau of Land Management, and San Juan National Forest lands. There also were reports of eight fires on Southern Ute land along the Colorado/New Mexico border.

The largest fires hit in the vicinity of Mesa Verde National Park. On Wednesday, fire crews were tackling the 20-acre Long Fire within the park and considered the fire 50 percent contained. Next door inside the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, the Weaver Fire was estimated to be in excess of 500 acres and growing because of strong winds.

Fire managers urged members of the public to use extreme caution, noting that the Western United States is experiencing a significant number of fires, and firefighting resources are becoming strained.

– compiled by Will Sands

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