Sunday, December 20, 2009

~ ~ ~ The Proposed Village at Wolf Creek ~ ~ ~ a 1250 word summation 12-24-9

Wolf Creek Pass, home to some of the deepest snowfalls in Colorado and source waters to the Rio Grande River, has also become home to an epic battle between Reaganomics style development and old fashioned conservation interests trying to protect a vital resource.  

The developer B.J. “Red” McCombs is determined to build his “Village at Wolf Creek”, a speculative town of eight (or ten), thousand residents, located at ten thousand feet elevation to the lee of America’s Great Divide. In 2008 McCombs’ decade long effort resulted in losing his critical court battles and having his original Environmental Impact Statement thrown out because of illegal developer manipulation of the EIS process. McCombs has now fallen back on another plan and is pushing Congressman Salazar to do his bidding through a Congressional land swap bill. This bill would trade a large portion of Mr. McCombs Alberta Park parcel, for a neighboring parcel a bit lower on the slope and adjacent to US Highway 160.

Congressman Salazar asked local communities for feedback. In the town of Pagosa Springs, in neighboring Archuleta County, two government boards addressing the question rendered a split decision. The County Commissioners will send a letter supporting the legislative exchange — with conditions attached —  while the Town Council has so far declined to support the land swap as proposed. 

McCombs’ proposed Congressional bill would bypass the National Forest Service’s established procedure for such a land trade request. If successful, in one deft move McCombs would avoid the sensitive fens wetlands on his existing parcel, and cozy up to US 160 with new, more buildable land. This Congressional edict would also eliminate procedural oversight and (unwanted) public input to his future development decisions. 

What is Mr. McCombs, the mega car dealer, actually planning to build up on the Great Divide? The developer’s artistic renditions portray a beautiful grand village, harmonious and planned (although when one looks deeper, it’s obvious they are oblivious to the environmental conditions a town perched at the top of the Great Divide would be subjected.) In truth, all that’s really established is that Red plans to build a hotel, a condo and subdivide a section, build some roads, drive in “For Sale” stakes — then wait for the onrush of buyers.  

That is as far as Red’s commitment to the local community goes. A number of local representatives publicly commented that both Red and Clint Jones, the Austin developer spearheading the land swap for McCombs, fail to respond to queries and are evasive about plans or giving assurances. McCombs seems to be saying, “Give us your commitment first, later we’re sure to consider your community concerns, trust us.”  

But, where is the “good faith”?  

All this does nag at public officials. But, in the end, most tossed up their arms and with a sigh remarked: Well, you know, it is his land and his sacred property rights, so there is nothing we can do to stop him. 

Problem is, this attitude ignores “the rest of the story.” 

You see, back in 1986, through shrewd manipulation of the golden rule, Mr. McCombs wrestled Alberta Park away from its protected fold within the Rio Grande National Forest. Visit’s Whitepaper, which documents the twisted history. Mike Soraghan’s Denver Post article: “Wolf Creek Development Tangled With Political Ties” (2-5-6) is another eye opener.  

Or google “Wolf Creek Village Presentation from Colorado Wild” and find “westdavies”  on YouTube. Davies is broadcasting a recent presentation by Ryan Bidwell from Colorado Wild — 9 parts and information packed. Interestingly, Clint Jones spoke the next evening but refused to allow West Davies to record his presentation ~ thus indicating that he refuses to stand behind his word. The significance is: all of this undercuts the developer’s lofty claim of property development rights. 

Another more important issue continually ignored is the overwhelming value of the land in its natural, undeveloped state. Alberta Park’s location in the heart of pristine source waters for the Rio Grande River make it a keystone parcel within that watershed and biological community. The meadow, fens and forest make up a fantastic assortment of biological activity and productivity that ultimately benefits all downstream inhabitants of this interstate, international river.

Alberta Park isn’t just another piece of local “real estate.” It belongs to an integral carpet of land, serving a life-giving function just as it stands: source waters to the Rio Grande River. It’s part of our national endowment — originally set aside for the benefit of all future generations. Red wrenched it out of its protective fold. Alberta Park is not Mr. B.J. McCombs sacred private property, it is tainted goods! 

The other argument in support of this speculative venture is our need for economic growth. In fact, at one meeting a local representative reminded us: “It’s the economy, stupid!” 

But isn’t the issue more complicated than a simplistic jingle which implies that building something, anything, so long as we can put a few people to work — even if it’s only a couple seasons — is good for the community? How does that help the young families who are trying to think in terms of decades? 

There is a great deal of avoidance going on these days. No one wants to look our growing economic/biosphere monster in the eye. But, all indications are that society is coming to the end of a creation-old spendthrift era.
The incoming economic battle cry is: “It’s about the sustainability, stupid!” The essence of sustainability is protecting our resources, especially water. It’s easy for communities near the source waters to overlook what an incredibly precious commodity it is. If you don’t believe it, go down to the Mexican border and watch the people on both sides struggling with a greatly depleted Rio Grande River water supply. 

Which brings me back to Alberta Park. A couple of representatives did muse about their love for that land, and confessed that if they had their way, nothing would be built up there. But, then voted against it.

Their words indicate they know what a precious commodity Americans have up there atop Wolf Creek Pass. Why don’t they fight for it? Well, one reason is our representatives need our support and pressure. We, the people, supply the backbone politicians need to stand up to driven billionaires. 

Right now, Congressman Salazar is being pressed very hard from many sides of this issue.  The scary thing is, in the real world, money doesn’t talk — it screams.  And Red is one determined billionaire. More than ever Salazar needs to hear from people who believe that Alberta Park and its surroundings are a national water resource treasure that should remain unmolested.  

If you care, please contact Congressman Salazar (and your other representatives) and ask them to put some effort into taking this whole issue back to first base. Figure out a way to get that Ill-gotten land back into the protective fold of the Rio Grande National Forest. That land, all of it, deserves to remain unmolested for the greater national good.
Why not switch the focus? Convince Mr. McCombs to STOP. He doesn’t need to be doing this. He could simply leave that area alone. 

Those parcels of real estate up near Wolf Creek Pass — although I would call them priceless biological gems — are serving a valuable, life sustaining function just as they are.  

Instead of saddling our communities with another destructive White Elephant, why doesn’t Red bequeath to his country the B.J. “Red” McCombs’ Sweet Water Biological Resource Preserve, dedicated to all downstream children yet to be born? 

{Thank you for the image of Alberta Park}

Reflections on local meetings regarding Mr. McCombs land swap scheme

Dear Editor, local Representatives and Congressman Salazar,

I felt a bit like a party crasher at the BoCC and Pagosa Springs Town Board meetings this past week. On the one hand, I can appreciate annoyance at some outsider poking his nose into local issues. On the other hand, I hope people appreciate that Alberta Park, located within the unspoiled source waters to the Rio Grande River isn’t just another local real estate issue. What happens up there will ultimate effect all down stream inhabitants of an interstate, international river.

Consider the claim made at the Town Board meeting: “It’s the economy stupid!” This way of thinking implies that building something, anything, so long as we can put a few people to work ~ even if it’s only a couple seasons ~ is good for the community. What good does that do the young families who are trying to think in terms of decades?

There is a great deal of avoidance going on. No one wants to look our growing economic/biosphere monster in the eye. But, all indications are that society is coming to the end of a creation old spendthrift era.

The incoming economic battle cry is “It’s about the sustainability stupid!” An integral part of sustainability is protecting our resources, especially water. It’s easy for us up here to overlook what an incredibly precious commodity it is. If you don’t believe it, go down to the Mexican border and watch the people on both sides struggling with a greatly depleted Rio Grande River water supply.

This brings me back to Alberta Park. I heard a couple representatives muse about how they love that land up there and if they had their drothers nothing would be built up there. Then vote against it. Their words indicated that in their hearts they know what a precious commodity Americans have up there. Why not fight for it?

And this brings me back to my intrusion. Red McCombs’ Reagan era pipedream is a huge mistake in the making, and since so few are screaming bloody murder, I will. Why? Because I’m haunted by too many examples of counterproductive destruction of critical natural resources that I’ve watched go down over the decades.

Please, put some effort into taking this whole issue back to first base and figuring out a way to get that ill-gotten land back into the protective fold of RGNF. That land, all of it, deserves to remain unmolested for the greater national good.


Peter Miesler
La Plata County

Monday, December 7, 2009

Friends of Wolf Creek Action Alert... stop Red McCombs

The following is a cut and paste directly off of the Friends of Wolf Creek website. Since they are the authority on Alberta Park and the Red McCombs saga, and one of its stanchest defenders, their information is worth sharing.

I am not affiliated with them, but I sure do support them!

Friends of Wolf Creek

Needs Your Help to Stop McCombs’ Latest Attempt

to Circumvent Public Review and Involvement

Alberta Park - Site of the Proposed Development

November 5 , 2009

They are at it again!

As you may have heard, Red McCombs has hired a new development team and is again working to push through his plans for a “Village” at Wolf Creek. Their new plan involves a new land exchange to facilitate access to their private land, and to acquire additional developable property. McCombs' team is heavily lobbying in Archuleta County and we need your help today to fight off this proposal.

McCombs remains unwilling to trust his project to any traditional process of public analysis, disclosure, and decision-making, and has therefore hired a new team of lobbyists to attempt to circumvent this review process through a legislative land exchange to gain not only access, but also additional developable property. With a number of well known and well-respected lobbyists and development firms on board, McCombs is now courting Congressman John Salazar to sponsor the legislative exchange. Fortunately, Congressman Salazar wants to hear from local communities and local elected officials about whether he should get involved in a land exchange.

What is on the Table
McCombs' new development team is trying to convince the public (and the BOCC) of why the land exchange is such a good idea, and why the legislative approach is not just more of the same backroom deal-making that we've seen all too much of before. Expect a slick presentation, and a growing list of promises to do this and that to address Archuleta County’s concerns. We need your help to challenge them on the details and stand up for the legitimate public review process that Friends of Wolf Creek has been fighting to maintain for more than a decade.

McCombs is giving the public a “choice” between an illegal 10,000 person development plan that they could never build (what they like to call the “approved plan”), and the new land exchange plan which would result in a slightly smaller development of 8,000 people. How is that for choices? In addition, McCombs’ developer is promising to listen to the concerns of the public in Archuleta County, but only if they get your support up front for a legislative land exchange. The “support me now, and I’ll listen to your concerns later” approach might fly in some parts of the country, but I hope that Archuleta County won’t buy stock in this scheme.

While the land exchange is concerning on its face (exchanging valuable developable land with highway frontage for McCombs’ wetlands and other undevelopable land) Colorado Wild is far more concerned about the process McCombs is pursuing to try to receive approval for the exchange. Rather than go though the traditional Forest Service land exchange review process – in which the public would have a chance to weigh in and the Forest Service EIS would disclose the impacts (pro and con) of the exchange before making a decision – McCombs and his new band of lobbyists is asking Congressman John Salazar to perform this land exchange legislatively.

Although McCombs is currently claiming that they will “try” to get their EIS done before the bill passes Congress, that is one promise they won't make. Nor is Congress under any obligation to consider the potentially significant impacts that we anticipate will surface through a thorough EIS process. Who do you think will have greater influence over Congress' decision, McCombs or you and I?

What You Can Do?
Congressman Salazar has yet to take a position on whether he would consider performing the land exchange through a bill in Congress. He and his staff are currently waiting to hear from local elected officials and the public about this proposal. We need your help to get the word to Salazar to say NO to any legislative land exchange. After more than 20 years of waiting, the public deserves a thorough and transparent analysis of the Village’s impacts before any decisions are made about a land exchange or other strategy to facilitate development of this land. Rather than a legislative run around, McCombs should go through the traditional Forest Service review process including a robust public involvement process. You can contact Congressman Salazar’s offices locally at:

  • 813 Main Ave, Ste 300, Durango, CO 81301, 970-259-1012
  • 609 Main Street, #6, Alamosa, CO 81101, 719-587-5105

Contact Your Elected Officials
McCombs and his teams are heavily lobbying your local elected officials to get their support for this project. We need your help to push back and ensure that McCombs doesn’t win the special treatment he is seeking.

The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners recently wrote a letter to Congressman Salazar expressing concerns about a legislative exchange. They need to be thanked for taking this important step, and encouraged to continue their opposition to the legislative proposal:

  • John Ranson - District 1,, 970-264-8304
  • Clifford Lucero - District 2,, 970-264-8303
  • Robert Moomaw - District 3,, 970-264-8305

Contact the Pagosa Springs Town Council today and ask them to oppose a legislative land exchange (e-mails are included here, but phone calls are also encouraged):

  • Ross Aragon, Mayor,
  • Mark Weiler, District 1,
  • Don Volger, District 2,
  • Darrel Cotton, District 3,
  • Stan Holt, Council Member at Large,
  • Shari Pierce, Council Member at Large,
  • Jerry Jackson, Council Member at Large,

More Details on What is Proposed
McCombs is proposing to exchange a roughly 200 acre portion if his current private land for a roughly 200 acre parcel of National Forest property which is adjacent to McCombs’ current property. McCombs is trying to trade away more than 70 acres wetlands and 100+ acres reserved for skiing in easements. In return for these undevelopable lands, McCombs is seeking property with highway frontage on US Highway 160 and that is generally free of major wetlands. Clearly, the parcels in question are of unequal value (equal value is a requirement of Forest Service land exchanges), but that has not stopped them from seeking legislative support for their proposal.

McCombs’ new front man Clint Jones and their team of lobbyists are beating the streets in Pagosa, South Fork, Del Norte and Creede, making promises and trying to build support for the land exchange. Like other attempts to circumvent public review that McCombs has attempted over the last decade, the legislative land exchange is just the latest attempt to avoid or otherwise “streamline” scrutiny of this project’s potentially significant adverse impacts.

Clint Jones is promising that they will even do an EIS after they get approval for their land exchange from Congress. But what is the point of doing an EIS if the decision has already been made? Why ask the public to weigh in if the deal is done? If McCombs was really willing to address the public’s concerns wouldn’t he want to ask for feedback up front?

Despite all the promises, we are aware of no public benefit of performing this land exchange legislatively. We need your help TODAY to help turn back McCombs’ latest attempt to fast track his development scheme.

For More Information
Contact Paul Joyce at Colorado Wild at 970-385-9833 or

{Thank you for the image of Alberta Park area}

Archuleta County Commissioners, please reject Red McCombs proposal

Open Letter to the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners regarding Red McCombs current land grab scheme:

Here we go again. On one side we have “Red” McCombs who back in 1986 through shrewd manipulation of the golden rule wrestled Alberta Park away from the Rio Grande National Forest. Visit Friends Of Wolf to view their whitepaper for documentation. Also Mike Soraghan’s Denver Post article: “Wolf Creek develop-ment tangled with political ties” (2-5-6)

Now nearing 2010 McCombs wants to wrestle another more “advantageous” parcel away from the Forest Service > and environmental oversight toboot. For this plan to work he must enlist the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners as accomplices. It’s easy to understand what’s in it for the developer. But, why would Archuleta Commissioners stand behind and support such a boondoggle in the making? The potential for harm, to the Alberta Park watershed and to future county finances far outweigh the flimsy potential for a viable luxury village up at Wolf Creek Pass.

We are dealing with a man’s dream of taking that pristine high mountain watershed resource ~ part of the headwaters to the Rio Grande River ~ and turning it into a chunk of Real Estate and a Backlot for some fanciful Luxury Resort Village for eight or ten thousand wealthy vacationers. But, how many would actually want to live there year around?

This is at ten thousand feet elevation, just to the lee side of the Continental Divide at 11-12 thousand foot elevation? In an average winter thirty-six feet of snow will fall, with wind blown drifts that can bury homes. They can expect freezing temperatures eight months out of the year. The average wind speed is 11 mph, stormy weather brings 50 mph winds and when things get intense it’s a gale topping a hundred miles per hour. Is this an appropriate setting for a successful luxury town?

The Village at Wolf Creek is a dream born during the heady Reagan years when America convinced itself there were no limits on our expectation for ever greater luxuries. Haven’t we learned better? I sincerely wish Red McCombs and those of like mind would STOP and seriously look at how their blind compulsive grasping for ever more consumption is robbing our children’s future.

Look around at our economy, our commitments, and the flow of events. The dream of a Luxury Village of eight or ten thousand wealthy vacationers enjoying cold alpine weather conditions, belongs in a Hollywood movie... > Not perched on the edge of the Colorado Great Divide.

What about the vast operational expense$ and the infrastructure that must be maintained whether the homes are sold or not, lived in or empty? The town at ten thousand elevation will need well planned, faithfully executed civic infrastructure: police, medical facilities & personnel, schools(?), communications & IT infrastructure, providing & maintaining power utilities, street maintenance, water supply & sewer system maintenance through a long winter and deep blanket of snow. Oh and snow removal, just where will they put all that snow they need to scrap off the roads and roofs? Are they planning streets a hundred feet wide like in Silverton? The list goes on. Who will be picking up the tab?

What part of this plan is feasible? A developer’s smooth sales pitch and lubricating gold should not be enough to convince civic leaders to fall for such a chimera! Look at the lower elevation areas around Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado ~ they have a frightening saturation of unsold vacation homes, as documented in a Pagosa Sun article by James Robinson (7-8-9). Why add to the glut? Also see Mark Pearson’s (3-5-9) Durango Herald: “(Luxury) Resorts morph into “toxic” real estate assets.”

How is this going to work given the current economic prospects? Especially since the only purpose for this alpine Village at Wolf Creek is satisfying the dream fulfillment of rich people with too much money. Considering what’s happening in the financial world, even rich folks don’t have the loose change they used to. “If you build it, they will come” sounds great in the movies and ad campaigns but in the real world of flowing seasons and the 2010’s it rings mighty flat.

McCombs finds himself on the side of American thought that proclaims ‘Too Much Is Never Enough.’ This faith is coupled with an outlook that demands a ‘Full Speed Ahead With Eyes Glued To The Rear View Mirror’ mindset. This project is all about such 80/90’s thinking. We have seen time and again how this free wheeling self-certain focus on development at all costs, has saddled communities with precious resource, money, energy & time robbing obligations. Why allow this community to be led right into another such trap? Why invite an expensive destructive White Elephant into our community?

So, what about the other side? It represents a conservative perspective. It looks beyond grand fancies and short term profits and believes such irreplaceable biological gems as Alberta Park with it’s surrounding meadow and forest land is a precious biological resource and part of the national endowment that belongs to our younger generations. Akin to a national treasure or even a National Security Water Resource Area. It believes Red McCombs should do a truly patriotic thing and grant that land back to the American trust through some sort of conservation easement arrangement: “The Billy Joe ‘Red’ McCombs Fresh Water Biological Preserve” dedicated to all down stream kids yet to be born !

As representatives you have been entrusted with looking toward the future and the greater good. Truth be told in general representatives have too often failed we the people, in carrying out that mandate due to the golden rule.

Therefore, we the people stand before you powerless ~ yet, pleading for your better judgment to out shine your faith in economic notions that are proving to fail us when we need them most. Protect that productive natural resource up there at Alberta Park. Reject Red McCombs fanciful and dangerous notion of a new land grab. Reject the pipedream of bulldozing a luxury vacation town into the middle of that pristine biologically productive high mountain alpine watershed.
Please vote in favor of Leaving It Alone.

Sincerely, Peter Miesler ~ Durango, Colorado ~

{For the record I am unaffiliated with FWC or any other entity involved in this matter.
My allegiance is with Alberta Park... and that fantastic gem of a watershed. pm 12-7-9}
Thank you for the image of Alberta Park.