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County voices concerns over ‘Village’ impacts

Stating an interest in ensuring that socioeconomic impacts are adequately addressed in an in-process Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) concerning the proposed land exchange for the Village at Wolf Creek, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners, on Monday, approved a letter directed to the U.S. Forest Service.

The EIS is currently underway via a third-party firm, but under the direction of the San Luis Valley Public Lands Center, Rio Grande National Forest, as part of a land exchange proposal.

During the Monday special meeting, the BoCC approved a letter directed to Dan Dallas, forest supervisor, and Tom Malacek, divide district ranger, stating the board’s concerns over the possible impacts.

In 2009, the sitting BoCC approved a letter, with a vote of 2-1, urging that the land exchange go through a legislative process.

Since then, with changes to the board and an administrative process occurring to look at the proposed land exchange, the commissioners are again voicing their concerns over the project, which would be a potential consequence of the land exchange.

In presenting the letter in the absence of County Administrator Greg Schulte, County Attorney Todd Starr noted that the letter does not address the merits of the development, but looks at the impacts that might be experienced in Archuleta County and Pagosa Springs.

The commissioners, too, made it clear that they were not taking a position on the Village development, but were seeking information to inform that position.

“This is not me taking a position,” Commissioner Steve Wadley said to begin BoCC statements on the letter, adding that the development resulting from the land exchange could cause impacts in a number of areas, including the environment, emergency services, socioeconomic, long-term jobs and more.

Commissioner Michael Whiting stated that the public step was part of the BoCC’s job to work with people and entities while watching out for the people of Archuleta County.

Commissioner Clifford Lucero echoed that the letter was one of concern and was not a vote in favor of the village.

With that, a motion was made and seconded, opening the floor to public comment.

Dave Bronson, operations manager for Pagosa Springs EMS was the first to step to the microphone, stating he was asked to speak at the meeting.

Bronson said the local EMS service is currently contracted to serve portions of Mineral County (to the summit of Wolf Creek Pass) and serves Wolf Creek Ski Area.

Bronson continued, noting that much of the area in question would fall under Mineral County’s jurisdiction, and that Pagosa Springs EMS had not been contacted about mutual aid, leading Bronson to believe there would not be a significant impact on local EMS.

Continuing in that vein, Bronson said that, if a mutual aid contract were worked out, the district would have to increase its resources because of the 20-25 minute response time to the area.

Next, Pagosa Fire Protection District Chief Diane Bower outlined PFPD’s service to the area.

Bower said the district has no agreement with the ski area, but does respond to and assist with wrecks as far away as the tunnels on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass.

Bower indicated that previous meetings with Village developers included a discussion of the development’s need to provide stations and engines in order to not stretch the district’s current resources.

With no other public comment on the matter, Starr read the letter aloud to those present.

“We request assurances from the United States Forest Service that the economic and infrastructural impacts of the project and the proposed land exchange specific to Archuleta County are being thoroughly investigated the EIS and will be addressed before any final decision on the land exchange is made.

“While it is our hope that a ‘Village’ development would produce some new jobs for Archuleta County residents, roughly one half of the population and services in the region of impact of the proposed ‘Village’ are in Archuleta County and Pagosa Springs. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that roughly one half of the impacts on schools, law enforcement, emergency services, social services, and workforce housing would fall on Archuleta County.”

The letter continues, stating that, because the project is in Mineral County, Archuleta County would receive no tax revenue to offset the impacts — the reason behind the request for a “more robust, community-specific” impact assessment.

“While we recognize that the USFS is only considering a land exchange and not approving the ‘Village’ project, , However, if approved, that land exchange will convey certain new, irrevocable property rights to the developer that will (1) make the project more likely, and (2) define the scope and scale of the final project,” the letter states. (Editor’s note: This passage is quoted accurately.)

The letter concludes, stating that the EIS and Record of Decision on the project will directly affect the viability and size of the potential development, meaning the impacts need to be known prior to completion of the EIS.

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 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 System lands to accommodate access to the private land. LMJV is entitled by federal statute to have granted to them by the Forest Service a right-of-way for access 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 land, meaning any possible development on Wolf Creek 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.

The land exchange process is expected to be complete in 2012.

randi@pagosasun.com

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