McCombs cries ‘Wolf Creek’ again, gets land swap study

After more than 25 years, Texas billionaire Red McCombs quixotic quest to build a luxury ski village at Wolf Creek just got big news from the Forest Service. SNEWS finds out what's next.
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Texas billionaire and former Minnesota Vikings football team owner B.J. “Red” McCombs is back in the news in Colorado. On March 8, 2011, the Forest Service announced it will study a proposed land swap that McCombs hopes will allow him to build an expansive new base village near Wolf Creek Ski Area -- something he has been trying to accomplish since the 1980s.

McCombs is proposing to swap 178 acres of private land he owns in a meadow near the base of Wolf Creek for 204 acres of Forest Service land adjacent to U.S. Highway 160, where he plans to build a 1,700 unit village catering to Wolf Creek skiers.

It’s a far cry from the 10,000 units McCombs originally proposed -- and which local environmental groups and Wolf Creek executives strongly opposed -- in a project that was temporarily halted by a lawsuit filed by Colorado Wild over a road through Forest Service land that would have provided access to the property.

The issue of the road has been removed in the present land swap, as has 80 percent of the original development plan. And there is still a period of public comment and environmental analysis to follow. Colorado Wild's Paul Joyce said he welcomed the new period of study. “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,” he said.

But he added that the group continues to have concerns that the land exchange proposal “is significantly out of balance, and unfair to the public,” particularly in terms of each parcel’s relative value. He said, “Mr. McCombs proposes to exchange 204 acres of public land with highway access, for 178 acres of undevelopable land with no highway access.”

The Forest Service report states that it is that very land McCombs is offering which makes the swap so compelling now -- particularly as the public would gain a wetland and a stretch of stream. “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,” Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas said in a statement regarding the agency’s decision to study the proposal.

The Forest Service will now begin to conduct an EIS regarding the trade, with a final decision due at its earliest by January 2012.

--Peter Kray

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