Judge deals yet another blow to Red McCombs’ plan for Village at Wolf Creek resort

Jason Blevins - The Denver Post

Texas billionaire B.J. “Red” McCombs has won few battles in his 30-year push to build as many as 1,700 homes and a resort village atop Wolf Creek Pass.
Jason Blevins - The Denver Post

Last week the 89-year-old businessman lost yet another skirmish when a federal judge declined to reconsider an earlier decision that overturned U.S. Forest Service approval of a land exchange that allowed access for the proposed Village at Wolf Creek.

McCombs’ three-decade plan to build a city for 8,000 people on a remote mountaintop in southern Colorado has garnered fervent opposition from conservation and environmental groups concerned about the impact of the project, which would be adjacent to the separately owned Wolf Creek ski area.

In 2015, after 15 years of planning, the Forest Service approved a land swap that gave McCombs access to a roughly 300-acre island of private property surrounded by federal land at 10,000 feet atop Wolf Creek Pass. It was the third intensive environmental review the agency had conducted on the proposed Village at Wolf Creek. A coalition of environmental groups sued to overturn the decision in 2016, arguing the Forest Service was influenced by McCombs and was not transparent in its review process. Opposition groups argued the agency should consider the entire scope of the project — not just the land swap, which is approved under a law that requires federal land managers to provide access for reasonable use and enjoyment to landowners with inholdings of private land surrounded by public property.

The Forest Service approval ceded details of the proposed village to Mineral County, which approved the project in 2004 in a decision that was overturned in 2005 by a federal court.

District Judge Richard Matsch in May reversed the land swap approval, noting a “predictive bias” in the Forest Service’s analysis, striking a serious blow to McCombs by suggesting the agency favored environmental reviews that supported the multi-billion-dollar project. McCombs attorneys filed a motion asking Matsch to reconsider his decision and last week Matsch rejected the motion.

Matsch described the Forest Service’s land swap approval as “a patent effort to circumvent its obligation to protect the natural environment of the forest.”

“The Forest Service expressly disclaimed any authority to limit the development ceding that authority to Mineral County and finding that there would be only indirect effects on the public lands,” Matsch wrote. “The legal conclusion that the agency cannot control the use of the land conveyed in a land exchange is a clear error of law.”

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