MONTE VISTA — Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas on Wednesday announced a new decision to provide reasonable access to a 288-acre private property parcel adjacent to Wolf Creek Ski Area owned by Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture. The property owner plans to construct a year-round resort known as the Village at Wolf Creek.
The decision approves a road and utility right-of-way across National Forest System land from U.S. Highway 160 to the private property. The right-of-way is about 1,610 feet in length and would be within a 100-foot corridor with a total area of about 3.7 acres.
The existing Tranquility Road would be extended east about 530 linear feet across National Forest Service lands to provide access between the inholding and Wolf Creek Ski Area, and would provide limited, restricted and seasonal access between Hwy 160 and the private land inholding. Tranquility Road would also provide a route for emergency access/egress.
“The property owned by Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture is surrounded by National Forest System land,” said Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas. “My decision provides the access that is legally required for private inholdings.”
The decision is based on Alternative 3, the so-called ANILCA alternative, as analyzed in the final environmental impact statement completed for the Village at Wolf Creek Access Project in 2014. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), a national authority, grants private landowners surrounded by National Forest System lands a right of reasonable access.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided a new biological opinion to inform the decision. This biological opinion analyzed the effects to the Canada lynx from the proposed authorization of access across the Rio Grande National Forest.
Dallas stated in his decision that the Forest Service does not have regulatory authority over the development itself. That is Mineral County’s jurisdiction.
“ANILCA does not require the Forest Service to decide which use, within a range of reasonable uses, will be ‘allowed.’ The Forest Service’s task is more limited. The Forest Service must simply ensure that it provides access over National Forest System lands that will allow use of the private property within the reasonable range … If year-round automobile access is needed for operation of even a small development, I must grant that level of access. It is then Mineral County’s responsibility to determine the size and configuration of the development that will be allowed using that access,” Dallas stated in his decision.
“This has been a long, complex project and I encourage folks to learn more about its status and review the new decision for themselves,” added Dallas.
In his final Record of Decision, Dallas recounted that his first Record of Decision, issued May 21, 2015, approved a land exchange to provide Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture (LMJV) access to its privately held land adjacent to the Wolf Creek Ski Area and within the Rio Grande National Forest. A lawsuit challenged that decision and the United States District Court for the District of Colorado set the land exchange decision aside on May 19, 2017.
Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. On December 11, 2018, the Tenth Circuit dismissed LMJV’s appeal. The Tenth Circuit noted that the Forest Service “must take some action to provide LMJV with access.
“Faced with the obligation to provide LMJV with access to its lands, and constrained by the court’s decision, I decided to consider granting LMJV access through a right-of-way across Forest Service land instead of through a land exchange,” Dallas wrote.
Staff prepared a supplemental information report to determine if the 2014 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which had considered both a land exchange and a right-of way, would need to be supplemented.
“The interdisciplinary team recommended that changed conditions and new information would not present a significantly different picture of the environmental effects and a supplement to the EIS was not warranted,” Dallas stated.
Dallas issued a second draft record of decision on July 19, 2018, which was administratively challenged. The Deputy Regional Forester considered all objections and issued a 48-page response on November 19, 2018, which found no violation of law, regulation or policy.
After reviewing documents and input, Dallas made his final decision approving access to LMJV’s private inholding through a right-of-way across National Forest System land.
The record of decision and final environmental impact statement is available for public review at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=35945.