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USFS holds ‘Village’ open house

A series of open houses held last week by the San Luis Valley Public Lands Center for the purpose of soliciting feedback for an environmental analysis involving the proposed Village at Wolf Creek land exchange showed little in the way of new concerns about the project.

The proposal involves exchanging approximately 204 acres of federal land for approximately 178 acres of private land owned by Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture (LMJV).

The SLVPLC held three meetings: one in Creede, one in Pagosa Springs and one in Del Norte to present information to the public and solicit comment from interested parties.

Mike Blakeman, public affairs officer for the center, said about 20 people attended the meeting in Creede, about 41 attended the Pagosa meeting and about 37 attended in Del Norte — not as well attended as previous public meetings concerning land exchange proposals for the project.

Blakeman said the same mixture of concerns were expressed at all the meetings — with some in favor of the project, some concerned with living and snow control at elevation, water storage and treatment, and others concerned with social impacts on neighboring communities.

LMJV spokesman Clint Jones said he believes discussion and questions at the meetings were geared more toward a possible end-result Village.

“What they appear to be doing,” Jones said, “is that a lot of them are asking about things associated with the end product versus what the forest service is looking at right now.”

Jones did say, however, that in his experience at the meetings, those who were presented with information favored the land exchange over the USFS granting access to LMJV’s current parcel of land.

One possible change in views was observed by Blakeman through discussions, namely in Pagosa, in terms of the openness for the potential project.

“To me, it was a bigger change in Pagosa because, in the past, it seemed like almost everyone was against the Village, and this time around there it was definitely more of a split,” Blakeman said.

The RGNF will use comments solicited to prepare an environmental impact statement to analyze the potential impacts of the land exchange and alternatives on the physical, human and biological environment.

The public input helps the forest service identify issues and develop alternatives for the analysis, potentially bringing up issues not thought of by USFS personnel, Blakeman said.

Comments will be received until June 4, 2011. Electronic comments can be submitted to: Please include “Village at Wolf Creek Land Exchange Proposal” in the subject line of the e-mail.

Hardcopy comments should be addressed to: Village at Wolf Creek Land Exchange Proposal, c/o Tom Malecek, Divide District Ranger, Rio Grande National Forest, 13308 West Highway 160, Del Norte, CO 81132.

According to a press release from the SLVPLC, “The primary benefits of the land exchange proposal over the previous easement access proposal include scaled-down development on the private land, relocation of most of the proposed private land development to an area farther away from the ski area, and a net gain to the Forest Service via acquisition of wetlands and perennial stream habitat for wildlife.”

The lands included in the proposed land exchange are located adjacent to Wolf Creek Ski Area, approximately 20 miles southwest of South Fork.

Part of the federal land proposed for exchange would connect the private land to U.S. 160, thus precluding the need for securing access across the Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF).

As an alternative to the proposal, the Forest Service will also analyze a potential easement across National Forest land to accommodate access to the private land. LMJV is entitled by federal statute to have a right-of-way for access granted to them by the Forest Service, commensurate with the reasonable use and enjoyment of their property.

Even if the land exchange is approved, which LMJV spokesman Clint Jones pointed out in a previous SUN interview could be next year, the company would still have to approach Mineral County and go through a platting process for the project, meaning any possible development at the proposed site will not occur in the immediate future.

The most recent iteration of the Village plan unveiled to the public 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.

Mike Blakeman contributed to this report.

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