McCombs returns to square one

The fight against the “Village at Wolf Creek” celebrated a monumental victory this week. Following 16 months of legal wrangling, the Forest Service and developer Red McCombs agreed to go back to the drawing board and complete a fair and unbiased Environmental Impact Statement for the controversial development proposed for the base of the Wolf Ski Area.

 “The Village” is in no way connected to Wolf Creek ski area, which is widely recognized as an environmentally friendly, no-frills, family-run operation. McCombs, the former owner of the Minnesota Vikings and Clear Channel Radio baron, has proposed a massive development including 2,172 new housing units and 222,100 square feet of commercial space. As part of the plan, 12 new restaurants, several hotels and a convention center would also be built on the meadow. Opposition to the Village at Wolf Creek has been off the charts both inside and out of the courtroom.

In April of 2006, the Forest Service authorized the construction of two access roads across public lands for the purpose of building the proposed 10,000-person development. In a lawsuit later that year, conservation groups Colorado Wild and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council charged that the agency had not adequately analyzed the environmental impacts of the proposed development. A year later, the U.S. District Court issued a Preliminary Injunction that stopped the project from moving forward before a final ruling. Rather than wait for that final ruling, the Forest Service and developers agreed this week to fulfill the plaintiffs’ demands and complete an entirely new environmental study.

“This settlement is a tremendous victory for the environment and the citizens of Colorado and the nation,” said Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild. “After nine years of false starts, behind-closed-door dealings and tainted analysis, the public will finally get a fair review of the Village’s thus-far unregulated impacts.”

The agreement signed today between conservationists Colorado Wild and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, the U.S. Forest Service and the developers, resolves a lawsuit brought in Federal District Court in October 2006.

The nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, together with private attorneys Brad Bartlett and Travis Stills, filed the lawsuit. Geoff Hickox, of the Western Environmental Law Center, exclaimed that this week’s settlement represents a victory for the opposition.

“This agreement gives us everything we asked for in our lawsuit,” he said. “This puts a stop to the attempt to run around environmental analysis and makes clear to the Forest Service and the developers that whatever is proposed for this site in the future will have to be done with full public disclosure and adherence to the highest environmental protection standards.”

It is unknown at this point what form the Village at Wolf Creek will take when McCombs reapplies for permission to build roads through public forest land to access his proposed development site, or what timeline any new proposal would proceed on. However, Hickcox concluded that the public will now have a true picture of the environmental impacts of such a development and an opportunity to be involved in the new decision-making process.


Commission calls for bicycle boost

Bicycling could be getting some help from on high. The Colorado Blue Ribbon Transportation Panel recently highlighted the need for state-funded improvements to bike transit and recreation. The panel was created by Gov. Bill Ritter to identify transportation shortfalls throughout the state.

Currently the Colorado Department of Transportation relies almost entirely on federal funding to create bicycle projects, including paved shoulders and bike lanes. The remainder, and lion’s share, of the CDOT budget is derived from state-generated transportation funds.

In its final recommendation this week, the Blue Ribbon Panel recommended that Colorado take a different approach to bike transit, specifying that state funding should be designated for creating new bicycle projects, adding shoulders to roads and improving multimodal mobility. In all, the panel made only six policy recommendations and one of them focused entirely on improving non-motorized safety by making improvements to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

Carla Perez, the governor’s senior transportation advisor, related that cyclists had a strong presence during many of the Blue Ribbon Panel’s public meetings around the state. “The bicycle community was out in full force,” she said. “Who would have known bicycling was such an industry in Colorado?”


School district pulls beef off menu

In the wake of the largest beef recall in history, the Durango School District has pulled burger off the menu. Several beef products will not be served in local school cafeterias after this week’s national recall of 143 million pounds of beef.

A California-based beef supplier to federal food and nutrition programs was recently suspended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture due to mistreatment of animals. Hallmark Meat Packing, and distributor Westland Meat Co., supplies beef to federal food and nutrition programs, including Durango school lunches.

In January, the district received about 13 cases of raw ground beef processed by Westland and served about three cases prior to Jan. 30 when 9-R pulled beef products from the school menus after the USDA issued a hold on Westland Meat Co. When food products are put on hold, it indicates that there are no safety concerns at that time.

“Providing safe food for Durango’s school children is our No. 1 priority,” said Krista Garand, director of student nutrition. “As soon as we learned about the hold, we stopped using the beef.”

The recall hit Feb. 17, requiring disposal of all Westland Meat Co. products, based on a “health hazard situation where there is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from the use of the product.” School District 9-R made appropriate menu changes in response to the recall. Several school districts in Colorado as well as numerous districts across the West took similar measures.


Pertussis rolls back into region

Flu season is officially upon La Plata County as well as the entire State of Colorado. The stakes also went up this week for local residents, when three cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, were confirmed in the region. Two of the cases involved adults and one child was hit with the disease. The San Juan Basin Health Department is trying to keep the public ahead of the highly contagious disease.

“There is a continuing investigation, and we expect to identify other cases due to the highly contagious nature of this illness,” said Joe Fowler, regional epidemiologist.

For both of these wintertime respiratory illnesses, the health department is recommending basic preventative measures: hand-washing, keeping hands below your face, and adequate rest. Fowler added that if you have the flu or suspect you have pertussis, you should stay at home.

An added prevention step is to make sure children have been immunized for pertussis (usually as infants with a booster at 4-6 years old). Pertussis is most severe in infants and young children and lasts six to10 weeks. Adults and adolescents can also be vaccinated against whooping cough.

– Will Sands


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows