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Forest Service to process ‘Village’ land swap

The Rio Grande National Forest has completed a feasibility analysis for the proposed Village at Wolf Creek Land Exchange and has entered into an agreement with Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture (LMJV) to process their land exchange proposal.

Processing the proposal means the Forest Service will conduct a thorough environmental analysis with public input before deciding whether or not to complete the land exchange.

“I feel there is significant public interest and enough potential benefits to this proposed land exchange over the previous right-of-way application to merit a full environmental analysis,” said Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas.

LMJV spokesman Clint Jones agreed, stating in a Wednesday interview with SUN staff, “Clearly, we think the best alternative is to do the land exchange.”

The proposed land exchange involves approximately 204 federal acres and 178 non-federal acres within the boundaries of the Rio Grande National Forest. 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 national forest.

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.

LMJV previously sought a right-of-way access across RGNF from U.S. 160 to their private land. Since their private land is surrounded by National Forest System 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.

Jones said LMJV has also asked the Forest Service to study the road access as an alternative, should the land exchange fail.

LMJV will cover the costs for a third-party contractor to conduct the environmental analysis, but the Forest Service will exclusively manage the analysis. The Rio Grande National Forest expects to begin the public scoping process for the analysis in April.

Jones said the environment analysis process will continue well into next year.

Even if the land exchange is approved, Jones pointed out that 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.

“We’re glad to be started with it and we think the Forest Service made the right decision in determining that the land exchange is in the public’s best interest,” Jones said, calling the exhange the “most friendly” option.

While LMJV believes the exchange is in the public’s best interest, Colorado Wild, which has often voiced opposition to the project, continues to have doubts about the balance and fairness of the proposed land exchange.

“After more than 25 years of controversy, the proposed Village at Wolf Creek project has never received the fair, transparent, and honest appraisal that the public deserves. The public deserves a fair, transparent, and honest appraisal of the Village’s impacts,” said Colorado Wild’s Paul Joyce in a press release.

“Colorado Wild looks forward to the RGNF completing a thorough analysis of the Village and the proposed exchange, and continues to believe that an honest appraisal will conclude the inappropriateness of Wolf Creek Pass for a large development, and ultimately lead the Forest Service to deny the land exchange,” Joyce continued.

In the press release, Colorado Wild states that, among other things, it hopes that the Canada Lynx, potential impacts to recreation experiences associated with Wolf Creek Ski Area and surrounding USFS lands, questions about water quality and quantity, wetland impacts, power generation, social and economic impacts of the development to nearby communities and businesses, and the size and nature of highway interchange needed for access to U.S. 160 are all looked at throughout the USFS process.

For more information about the proposed Village at Wolf Creek land exchange, visit the Rio Grande National Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/riogrande.

Mike Blakeman, of the SLV Public Lands Center, contributed material to this article.

randi@pagosasun.com

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