McCombs back-burnered

The Village at Wolf Creek fell onto the back burner last week when the Rio Grande National Forest officially ended its review of the controversial development plan. However, opponents of the plan for thousands of units just off Wolf Creek Pass are quick to note that the fight may be far from over.

Red 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 proposed 2,172 units and more than 220,000 square feet of commercial space, including restaurants and hotels. Opponents have objected to the village on a variety of levels, most notably that a 10,000-person development would cause irreparable damage to the high-elevation ecosystem.

Because McCombs’ private land is a Forest Service inholding and cut off from highway access, he has spent years seeking Forest Service approval. 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.

Early last fall, the Forest Service began considering a new application from McCombs for transportation and utility corridors across public lands to his property. However, just as the Rio Grande National Forest reopened the plan 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. Because McCombs has failed to submit a revised application to the Forest Service, the agency officially dropped its review of the Village at Wolf Creek last Thursday.

“We have not received a new application from Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture requesting access across the Forest, so we released the analysis team members,” said Jeni Evans, deputy forest supervisor for the San Luis Valley Public Lands Center.

For opponents, the decision showed promise but was by no means the final nail in the Village at Wolf Creek coffin. “I think it’s another step in the right direction,” said Bidwell. “But it’s still too early to say for sure whether the project is completely derailed or simply delayed.”

Despite McCombs’ failure to submit a revised application, the Texas developer is still revamping the project, according to Bidwell. He noted that a new team of planners came on board last summer, and it appears that McCombs is currently retooling the Village at Wolf Creek.

“It’s all up in the air as far as we can tell,” Bidwell said. “Who knows what the current market conditions will mean for the Village at Wolf Creek?”

From the Rio Grande National Forest’s perspective, review of the project is now on hold, and the agency’s planners have been shifted to other areas. Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas noted that should a new proposal surface from McCombs, “the forest will evaluate and consider the next steps at that time.”

PBS documentary profiles Durango

Durango goes onto the national stage this week, but in a less than flattering light. On Feb. 20, PBS will air an episode of the Emmy Award-winning newsmagazine “NOW,” which investigates teen sexual harassment on the workplace. The program will spotlight a recent case involving the Durango McDonald’s.

Durango attorney Lynne Sholler argued and settled the case – where several teens were inappropriately talked to, touched, groped, solicited for sexual favors, and even had their breasts bitten by their direct manager – in 2008.

“In our nirvana-like community of Durango, we tell ourselves ‘that doesn’t happen here,’” Sholler said. “But, it does happen here – and everywhere.”    

The girls, aged 16 and 17 at the time, repeatedly told managers about the conduct, it continued for months. After two girls were bitten, the manager was given a warning, but then he bit a third victim. He was eventually fired after other reports of sexual harassment, as well as reports of on-the-job drug use and sales.

Maria Hinjosa, who compiled the documentary, noted that these kinds of incidents go mostly unreported, making Friday’s program that much more essential. “We hear stories about protecting our kids from sexual predators on the Internet and teach our daughters and sons to be wary of strangers,” she wrote. “There are programs in high schools that deal with bullies, and programs that deal with sexual harassment in school. Yet, there’s never been a national conversation about sexual harassment of teen girls on the job.”

The documentary tracks the Durango girls’ four-year journey for justice through the court system and their eventual victory in court. The program will also profile incidents of sexual harassment in San Diego and Puyallup, Wash.

“These cases drive the point home that employers cannot ignore workplace harassment, especially when the workforce consists largely of teens,” Sholler said. “Not only does sexual harassment have a devastating effect on the victims, it also negatively impacts morale and productivity, harms the businesses reputation, impedes the hiring and retaining of employees.”

The one-hour NOW documentary runs this Friday at 8 p.m.

Bicycle Safety bill nears finish line

Local cyclists could be in for big help from the Colorado Legislature. Senate Bill 148, sponsored by Sen. Greg Brophy, a Republican from Wray, passed through the State Senate on Tuesday. The bill would provide protection for bicyclists by requiring automobiles to give 3 feet of clearance when passing.Brophy, an avid road rider, commented, “This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Given the amount of cyclists hit every year, I am glad to see we are making progress in this area.”Collisions with cars account for a third of all bicycle accidents. They also account for the majority of catastrophic injuries and deaths. Brophy said he believes the bill will provide more of the proper protection needed for cyclists.

“My goal is to provide the proper space needed for cyclist to avoid being run over,” he said. “This bill does not give the cyclist priority over vehicles, it only provides a required three-foot space when passing.” The bill now moves to the Colorado House and faces its next round of votes.

Community garden to break ground

With spring just around the corner, a community garden is taking form in Durango. The Commons, formerly the Federal Building, which is comprised of 14 nonprofit organizations, three schools and a child care center, is breaking ground on the project.

The garden will be located behind the building at 701 Camino Del Rio and accessible from the Animas River trail. The Commons is now seeking support for the garden from the greater Durango community. Tool, seed and soil donations are needed as well as manpower to get the project in the ground. The Commons is also seeking greenhouse space to help get plants started for a spring planting.

For information, or to volunteer or donate, call 385-4354.

– Will Sands