OPINION: Final Arguments Completed in Wolf Creek ‘Village’ Lawsuit

By Erika Brown

A coalition of conservation organizations, who have long been fighting to protect Wolf Creek Pass from a massive ill-conceived development, submitted final arguments and filings to Judge Richard P. Matsch. The lawsuit aims to reverse a 2015 decision by the Forest Service to approve a land exchange providing critical road access needed for the 8,000-person ‘Village’ to be realized.

The groups have good reason to believe the developer may have exerted undue influence over the private contractor hired by the Forest Service to conduct the Environmental Impact Statement, but their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for correspondences between the two parties was denied last week. The developer has admitted to exerting pressure on the process and previous FOIA requests demonstrate Texas billionaire Red McComb’s, who is behind the development, threatened political influence. The groups are troubled by the outcome and assessing next steps, but believe the merits case remains strong.

“We were forced to go forward with the case without all the information underlying it,” says attorney Travis Stills, “It lets the Forest Service use contractors to create a black box around its real decision-making and the influence that project proponents have on private contractors carrying out federal responsibilities.”

The final case details extensive evidence regarding how the Forest Service unlawfully limited the scope of the environmental analysis and used the process to benefit private, profit-driven interests over that of the public. The site of the proposed development, at over 10,000 feet of elevation, is crucial habitat for the endangered Canada lynx and serves as a wildlife corridor linking two major Wilderness areas. Despite this and the presence of rare fen wetlands, the Forest Service inconceivably did not analyze adequate protections as part of the land transfer.

“This is a clear case so far to privatize profits and socialize losses” said San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council Director Christine Canaly, “it’s frustrating to watch the incremental
push of private profit over public interest. We trust the court will take our claims seriously and rule in favor of transparency and the public good.”

The lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service was brought by a coalition of conservation groups including Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance and San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council.

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