Open house, no plans

Despite maps depicting lynx habitat and wetlands, aerial photographs, flow charts on timetable and process, and highway department engineering renderings, detailed developer plans for the Village at Wolf Creek were notably absent during a Forest Service-sponsored open house held in Pagosa Springs Oct. 9, and the omission of key project details left many attendees wondering what to expect next.

“We’re still evaluating everything from the very inception of this project to-date,” said Hal Jones of Hal Jones Development in a telephone interview yesterday.

Jones and his firm have joined with primary village developers Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture to bring the project forward and Jones has indicated an interest in creating a drastically different project than the 10,000-person village originally slated for construction adjacent to the Wolf Creek Ski Area and touted by former Village front man Bob Honts.

“We met with CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) this morning,” Jones said, and added that the intent is to create “a cohesive plan we can hang our hat on.”

Jones said he intended to issue a statement regarding the development plan Monday or Tuesday.

The Oct. 9 open house was part of a newly-launched public scoping and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process triggered by an application submitted by village developers Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture. With the application, the development firm is again seeking transportation and utility corridors across National Forest System lands to their private property slated for construction of the controversial project.

Although the open house-style event was intended to educate the public on the EIS’s scope, content and process — not to showcase the developer’s plans — Forest Service officials have said they intend to assess the impact of the village as whole, thus, understanding the village’s scope and scale at full buildout plays a significant role in the new EIS process.

The new application and initiation of a new environmental analysis process are the result of a legal settlement involving Colorado Wild, the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, the Forest Service and Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture.

The Colorado Wild and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council sued the Forest Service in October 2006, challenging the agency’s decision to authorize construction of two access roads across public land for the purpose of building a 10,000-person village adjacent to Wolf Creek Ski Area.

In the suit, the groups said the EIS authorizing the roads was fundamentally flawed because it focused almost exclusively on the impact of the access roads and not the village as a whole. In the settlement, the Forest Service and developers agreed to undertake a fresh EIS, hence the recent application submittal and the agency’s stated intent to assess the potential impacts of the village as a whole.

With the possibility that the developer’s plans have changed, Mike Blakeman, public information officer for the San Luis Valley Public Lands Center, said, “We have asked them verbally and in writing for an amended application . Without that amended application, the EIS will be on hold.”

Nevertheless, Blakeman added that access from of U.S. 160 to the property plays a major role in the project and the EIS, and he said, “We can still receive comments on the federal action — that is, the access. Unless there are huge changes to the proposed village development, I suspect our range of access alternatives would not change a lot. We’re fairly certain one of the alternatives will probably include a single access alternative.”

By contrast, the previous EIS identified two access points: one at the intersection of Forest System Road 391 and U.S. 160, and a second just above the snowshed on U.S 160.

With the developer’s buildout plans unclear, Blakeman said the Forest Service will extend the public scoping period as necessary to allow adequate time for public comment. And Blakeman added, “If we don’t get that amended application, we could suspend the (EIS) process.”

Blakeman added however, that the Forest Service would make the decision to suspend the EIS at a later date, and if and when the need arises.

Blakeman said the public scoping period ends Dec. 31, 2008.