Forest puts Red McCombs on hold

The Village at Wolf Creek fell onto the back burner last week. The Rio Grande National Forest has put review of the controversial development plan on hold until proponent Red McCombs discloses the changes that were made to the “village’s” configuration.

McCombs, the Clear Channel Radio baron and former Minnesota Vikings owner, has pitched the large-scale development near the base of the Wolf Creek Ski Area, which is unaffiliated with the project. In his original plan, the Texas developer was pushing for

2,172 units and more than 220,000 square feet of commercial space, including 12 restaurants and several hotels.

However, McCombs’ private land is a Forest Service inholding and cut off from highway access. McCombs’ first application and the resulting Forest Service approval were close to being rejected in court when the two entities agreed to go back to the drawing board.

The current Forest Service process is in response to a new application from McCombs for transportation and utility corridors across public lands to his private property. However, just as the Rio Grande National Forest reopened the high-altitude development to public scrutiny, the Village’s configuration mysteriously changed.

Colorado Wild, a longtime opponent of the project, highlighted this change in early October. In a letter to the Rio Grande National Forest, Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director for the group, noted that significant changes – including new property ownership, easements, road alignments and lot boundaries – have been made to McCombs’ plan.

“These modifications appear to make it impossible for the original Village at Wolf Creek Development Plan to be implemented. Instead, it can be reasonably presumed that an entirely new development proposal is being developed,” he wrote.

With this in mind, Bidwell requested that the Forest Service extend the public process past the original Oct. 31 cut off. The Forest Service went beyond that and announced that it would put McCombs’ application on hold until a new or amended development plan was submitted.

“We have not yet received an amended or new application from (the proponent),” said Deputy Forest Supervisor Jeni Evans. “Since we don’t know when we will receive an application, I decided to put a hold on the project rather than extend the scoping period again.”

Evans noted that the primary purpose of the environmental review is to analyze the potential impacts of the access road across the national forest. However, she added that the agency is also looking at the impacts of the proposed Village.

“The amended or new application must include a clear, accurate development plan for the Village,” she said. “Without that, we can’t move forward.”

Bidwell thanked the Rio Grande National Forest for putting on the brakes and requiring full disclosure from McCombs. “Colorado Wild commends the Forest Service for pulling the plug on the Village EIS process at this time,” he said. “The public deserves a fair and complete assessment of this project’s impacts, but it is pointless to continue that review if the developer is unwilling to disclose his plans.”

If a new or amended application is received, the Forest Service will reinitiate the environmental review and a new public scoping period will begin.

Holiday gift drives get under way

The season of giving is officially upon La Plata County, and two organizations are working to see that less fortunate local residents wake up to something under the tree. Project Merry Christmas and Toys for Tots launched a combined local effort this week to get presents and holiday meals to approximately 1,200 needy local kids.

“We take it seriously, particularly this year with the economy being in such bad shape. I suppose everyone who contributes feels it’s a small thing to do to help the underprivileged kids have something other than a blue Christmas,” said Chuck Winnicki, a member of the local detachment of the Marine Corps League.

Started in 1947 by a USMC wife, Toys for Tots is an effort to put gifts under less privileged trees. Nearly 30 collection

boxes went out this week all over Durango and Bayfield. Toys for Tots is looking for new, unwrapped toys only and will collect them through Dec. 19. Donation boxes can be found downtown at: Applebee’s, Blueline, Brown’s Shoe Fit, Brown’s Sport Shoes, CJ’s Diner, Durango Brewing, Durango Joes, the Elk’s Lodge, First National Bank, Schluter Floral, Serious Texas BBQ, the VFW Post, Walk-In Chiropractic, as well as many other locations in Durango and La Plata County. The local effort then partners with Project Merry Christmas to wrap and distribute the gifts to area families.

Project Merry Christmas is also accepting only new, packaged toys this year beginning on Nov. 28. However, the group is also offering a variety of ways for people to donate at its location in the north end of the Durango Mall. Project Merry Christmas accepts gifts at its Durango Mall information booth, as well as monetary donations to cover the expense of holiday food vouchers. This year, the organization is also offering a wrapping booth at the mall, where volunteers will wrap your gifts for a donation. An Angel Tree is also in place and includes the names of children and their winter clothing needs.

Local firefighters will deliver gifts to some 400 La Plata County families and more than 1,400 kids on Dec. 21. Project Merry Christmas will continue to accept donations through Christmas Day. For more information, contact Project Merry Christmas at 247-2944.

Native Heritage Month proclaimed

The State of Colorado selected Durango and Fort Lewis College as the backdrop for a proclamation designating November as American Indian Heritage Month. Barbara O’Brien, lieutenant governor of Colorado, delivered the proclamation last week in the Fort Lewis Center of Southwest Studies before a gathering of students, faculty and staff, as well as Durango community members and representatives from the area’s Native American tribes.

“It is a statewide honor to be celebrating all the cultural, historical and leadership contributions that American Indians and Alaska Natives have made to the United States,” O’Brien stated.

O’Brien also announced the awarding of 13 scholarships last month as part of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs’ license plate program. Two of those scholarship recipients are attending Fort Lewis College, which has more than 750 Native American students enrolled.

Ernest House Sr., chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, also touched on the importance of education and the importance of Fort Lewis College to Native Americans. “Fort Lewis, in my opinion, is the foundation to all Native American education,” he said.

Any Native American can attend Fort Lewis free of tuition charges. This agreement dates back more than a century to the time when Fort Lewis was a military fort, and later, an Indian boarding school.

Local power prices on the rise

The price of plugging in locally is going to jump after the first of the year. The La Plata Electric Association approved a rate increase that is expected to raise the average residential bill by 6.5 percent. The rise in rates is predominantly a result of a wholesale rate hike from Tri-State Generation and Transmission, LPEA’s electric power supplier, as well as an increase in LPEA’s cost of doing business.

“As everyone knows, costs are going up across the board,” said Greg Munro, LPEA CEO. “While we have continued to improve our efficiency, be more responsive and more environmentally friendly, we still must increase our rates to ensure we can meet our mission to provide safe, reliable electrical power to our members.”

According to Munro, Tri-State is experiencing higher costs for coal-generated electricity, as well as a rise in price from the hydropower received from Western Area Power Administration.

The good news is, according to Munro, consumers are being more energy efficient and utilities are implementing a growing number of “demand side management” programs, which lessen the strain on the entire system. Currently, more than 1 percent of LPEA’s annual revenues are being focused directly on efficiency and demand-side programs.

– Will Sands