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}

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