Village at Wolf Creek appeal filed

The Village at Wolf Creek received a hefty challenge last week when three organizations challenged the Forest Service’s April 3 approval of two access roads to the giant development. The appeal alleges that the agency made major errors in its analysis and failed to live up to its responsibilities to the public. A Texas development company, headed by Clear Channel Radio baron and former Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs, has pitched the Village at Wolf Creek. The development would be located on 287.5 acres at the base of the Wolf Creek Ski Area’s Alberta quad and 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.As many as 10,000 people could occupy the development at build-out.

Immediately after its announcement, opposition to The Village at Wolf Creek was off the charts. As it analyzed a request to allow access to the isolated inholding, the Rio Grande National Forest stepped into the fray. The controversy boiled over in early April when Peter Clark, Rio Grande National Forest supervisor, announced his approval of a permanent road to access the large development. Citing legal precedent, Clark remarked, “We are required to grant access to property owners for reasonable use and enjoyment that that property.”

However, opponents counter that the Forest Service shut out the public when it granted access to McCombs. In an appeal filed last week, Colorado Wild, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, and San Juan Citizens Alliance argue that the Forest Service fell short of the requirements of the law. The appeal specifically charges that the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and the legally binding scenic easement on the property.

“The Forest Service continues to ignore major problems raised by the public as well as other state and federal agencies,” said Ryan Demmy Bidwell, Colorado Wild’s executive director. “Shirking its lawful responsibilities, the Forest Service adopted the developer’s legal argument as their own thinly veiled justification for the project after generous lobbying and influence from the developer.”

The appeal also alleges that the developer improperly influenced the Forest Service decision-making process and compromised the integrity of the analysis. These allegations are also currently being reviewed by the USDA inspector general, who was asked by Colorado Wild and Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., to investigate the developer’s political influence on the process. “The Forest Service must comply with federal law and take corrective action,” said Bidwell. “After thousands of public comments raising concerns about the project, the public deserves a fair assessment of how McCombs’ vision will impact their lives.” 

The Forest Service now has 45 days to respond to the appellants.


 


DMR receives base area go-ahead

Base area development is having a much-easier go at Durango Mountain Resort. Last week, La Plata commissioners unanimously approved the $100 million Purgatory Lodge, a complete makeover of the current DMR base area.

Phase I is a $35 million, 130,000-square-foot development, featuring resort amenities and services, commercial space and lodging units. The new construction will be situated slopeside, next to the Village Express 6-pack chairlift. DMR CEO Gary Derck said the resort plans to break ground on the project this summer.

“Durango Mountain Resort has been one of the top Colorado family vacation destinations for decades, and this new base lodge complex will dramatically upgrade our resort facilities and provide the ideal mix of services for our guests,” he said. “We are looking forward to the groundbreaking this summer, and to the transformation of Purgatory Village into one of the finest base villages in the country.” Among the phase I upgrades will be a Mountain Adventure Center – a one-stop shop for lift tickets, rentals, guest services and ski school – as well as retail shops, a day spa/salon, and upgraded locker rentals and public restrooms. The existing Purgy’s restaurant will be scraped and replaced by a brand-new day lodge with new kitchen and dining areas, fireplaces, fire pits, covered deck and a bar area fronting the Purgatory “beach.” The Village plaza will also be expanded to include a restored Purgatory Creek, lawn area, and town square-style amphitheater. Thirty-seven, fraction

al-ownership condos are also part of the first phase. Purgatory Lodge is part of Durango Mountain Resort’s 25-year Master Plan, initiated in 2004. The Master Plan consists of six residential villages and amenities to be built over the next two decades. The resort is also in the process of seeking approval for its Mountain Master Plan, including new and upgraded lifts, terrain and on-mountain services.


 


Coal smoke study set to begin

The smoke is continuing to clear over Durango’s south side. A study examining the feasibility of expanding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad’s existing smoke stack scrubber system will begin in the near future courtesy of a community effort.

Coal smoke has long been a point of contention on Durango’s south side, thanks largely to “hot standby,” the process whereby up to four D&SNGRR locomotives remain stoked with coal and idle overnight. The smoke from the engines follows prevailing winds, often blowing into homes on the south side.

A solution to the problem could be forthcoming, however. Region 9 Economic Development District, in partnership with the D&SNGRR, City of Durango and La Plata County, has received funding for a feasibility study. The study will examine expanding the existing scrubber system and adding other technologies to mitigate smoke in Durango. It also will further explore the feasibility of using alternative fuels such as wood pellets and natural gas overnight. The train has also committed to using higher-grade coal to reduce emissions.

A Train Smoke Mitigation Task Force, made up of government and community partners, worked on the $20,000 Community Development Block Grant proposal, successfully submitted by Region 9. The funding will be supplemented by an additional $20,000 contributed jointly by the city, county and railroad.  

 “The train has been working hard with its Durango neighbors to address smoke concerns, and the Task Force is creating collaborations that will continue to be in our community’s best interests,” said Ed Morlan, Region 9 executive director.


Jeff Deitch heads towards primary

Jeff Deitch has entered the race for the Colorado House of Representatives through the back door. The Durango attorney has qualified for the Democratic primary to represent the 59th District in the State House. Deitch bypassed the traditional caucus process and instead collected more than 2,000 petition signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Deitch credited residents of all counties in the district – Archuleta, La Plata, Montezuma, and San Juan – for joining in the effort. During the collection of the signatures, he heard a common theme from voters.

“I’m very grateful to the voters for participating in the petition process and showing their support for it,” Deitch said. “People are telling me they’re dissatisfied with old-style politics, and I’m listening.”

Deitch will face former Durango mayor Joe Colgan in the Aug. 8 primary.

– compiled by Will Sands

 

In this week's issue...

December 12, 2019
Gimme shelter

I spot a few cars parked along the road near the Purple Cliffs. I pull over, messing with my purse and worrying about locking the doors

December 5, 2019
Power in numbers

La Plata Electric Association has been trying to increase local renewable energy production for the past several years.

November 27, 2019
Dishing up cultural perspective

I haven’t any family close by to celebrate Thanksgiving with this year (except my darling husband), but I still have my friends, and I greet the day with an attitude of gratitude.