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Rep. Salazar holds ‘Village’ roundtable

The proposed Village at Wolf Creek was the topic of discussion Feb. 17 at a roundtable hosted by U.S. Rep. John Salazar in Alamosa.

Salazar held the meeting to open discussion between entities for and against the proposed Village project to see if any consensus could be reached to help him make the decision on whether or not to carry a bill for congressional approval of a land exchange for the project.

A more recent, smaller Village Plan B proposes a congressional land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service of 207 acres of Village-owned land around Alberta Park and the lower half of the Waterfall area, an area of wetlands and skiable terrain, for 207 acres northeast of Alberta Park with U.S. 160 frontage.

Further, the development plan calls for 492 units in phase one, with growth tied to the capacity of the ski area, meaning if the ski area does not expand, the Village development would remain at its initial size.

Though representatives of many government entities voiced opinions on the proposed land exchange at the end of 2009, Salazar stated publicly that there needs to be more consensus from both sides of Wolf Creek Pass before Congress could consider involvement.

Those interviewed said the forum was well-run by Salazar and provided productive discourse.

“The congressman did a great job at the outset to establish what he was looking to get out of the forum,” said Michael Whiting, director of the Southwest Land Alliance, adding, “He made it clear his goal was to gather more information on the route to take.”

“I think it was a great meeting and I think most everyone, no matter what side of the issue they’re on, thought it went well,” said Clint Jones, executive vice president of Hal Jones Development, LLC, Billy Jo “Red” McCombs’ developers. Jones also commented that McCombs was appreciative and felt the meeting went well.

Representing the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners, Bob Moomaw echoed the sentiment.

“I think it went very well. I think the congressman was trying to get a consensus between the governmental bodies involved and the environmental groups,” Moomaw said, adding that he believed a consensus was achieved in that the vast majority of representatives indicated they would like the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process to be completed before anything was done administratively or legislatively.

Moomaw also commented that the strong showing from Archuleta County was a positive. “I was very proud of the fact that a large number of Archuleta County people showed up,” he said, adding that he thought Salazar took notice.

Whiting said the only new information that came out during the meeting came from Dan Dallas, Rio Grande National Forest supervisor, who, according to Whiting, said that the proposal, as it currently stands, would not pass NEPA requirements for public benefit if it were to pass through the USFS.

“There’s a long way to go in terms of a finished product for a viable proposal,” Whiting said.

Moomaw also reported that a number of participating entities referenced the county’s conditional letter of support to Salazar.

The BoCC voted 2-1 in December to send a letter of support for the land exchange, with the conditions that an EIS be completed with public input, that the total number of units for all phases not exceed 750, that a special taxing district be established to help affected communities, and that the number of hotel rooms in the first phase be limited to 70.

While the issue of the Village is far from over, Jones said the meeting was a large step forward.

“It was a big stride in building a consensus among the groups that were there,” Jones said.

“This is an issue with passionate opponents and proponents. Although no final decisions were made today, it was good to hear the different perspectives,” Salazar said following the forum. “One key area of agreement today, among both sides, was the need for a full, open and honest NEPA process. I believe this is a step forward and I look forward to working with my constituents on how best to proceed.

“If we can protect our land and water and at the same time bring jobs and economic growth to southern Colorado, then we owe it to ourselves to continue a constructive dialogue. Working together we can solve any problem,” Salazar continued.

Jones has previously said he hopes to employ both the congressional land exchange track and an administrative track through the USFS in his Plan B strategy that would allow for more public input than the legislative track.

If Salazar does not sponsor the exchange or, possibly, if he takes too long to decide, the developers have previously said they would move forward with the Village’s original, larger Plan A.

“We’ve said all along, if the land exchange doesn’t occur, we’d go back to the original plan,” Jones said in a previous SUN interview.

The roundtable included Salazar, Moomaw, Whiting, McCombs, Ryan Bidwell of Colorado Wild, Lisa Reeve of the Pagosa Springs Board of Realtors, Rio de la Vista of Rio Grand Headwaters Land Trust, South Fork Mayor Larry Heersink, Steve Kendell of Trout Unlimited, and Davey Pitcher of Wolf Creek Ski Area.

Also in attendance were Robert Hagedorn, Rio Grande County commissioner; Marty Asplin, mayor pro tem of Del Norte; Pam Schoemig, Pagosa Springs hotel owner; Jimmy Adelman, Mineral County Commissioner; Chris Canaly, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council; Dale Wiescamp, Del Norte resident and real estate broker; Mary Jo Coulehan, Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce; Jim Turnbull, Friends of Wolf Creek; and T.J. Brown, Upper Rio Grande Economic Development Council.