The Crestone Eagle, March 2006:

Village at Wolf Creek project becoming a national scandal

by David Nicholas

The Village at Wolf Creek, a project to establish a ski resort for wealthy Texans, has gone from being just another opening of public lands opposed by environmentalists to a major national scandal. The scandal, which comes at a time when lobbyist Jack Abramoff has pled guilty for trading political favors in return for campaign contributions, is rocking Washington D.C.

At issue is the undue influence the Texas billionaire developer B.J. “Red” McCombs exercised to gain approval to build his $1 billion project located just on the Valley side of Wolf Creek Pass. The project calls for more than 2,100 housing units to be constructed, enough to hold 10,500 people, plus hotels and 222,100 square feet of commercial space on a 288 acre parcel surrounded by the ski-area grounds.

The billionaire is considered a good friend of the Bush family and is also a long-time contributor to political campaigns at the state and national levels, trying to sway powerful members of Congress to his side. Mr. McCombs is a San Antonio car dealer who co-founded Clear Channel Communications, the nation’s largest radio company.

Apparently Mr. McCombs and his partner, Bob Honts, pushed to have Mark Rey, a longtime timber industry lobbyist, appointed undersecretary in the US Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service. Mr. Rey has said that regional Forest Service officials in Colorado are handling decisions regarding Mr. McCombs’ proposed development at the Wolf Creek Ski Area. Despite his claim, it appears in disclosed documentation that the undersecretary met with key proponents of Mr. McCombs’ project regularly, and his deputy, David Tenny, has continually kept tabs on it.

In order to build his project, Mr. McCombs needs Forest Service permission to build a 250 foot road across federal land so visitors can reach his property from the nearby highway. The Forest Service is scheduled to announce soon whether it will grant Mr. McCombs the access he needs for the road.

Mr. McCombs purchased 220 acres in 1986 when he was in partnership with the original owner of the Wolf Creek Ski Area, Kingsbury Pitcher, who is no longer on speaking terms with the billionaire and is now in court regarding the break-up of the business relationship.

The scandal reaches down to US Forest Service officials in Colorado and to the County Commissioners in Mineral County where the Wolf Creek Ski area is located. It appears the Commissioners, who were originally in favor of the development, may have withheld documentation dealing with the developer’s application for county approval from a recent court case heard in the San Luis Valley’s 12th Circuit Court brought by opponents to the development.

The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC), which has opposed the development for the last ten years, brought the lawsuit along with other concerned citizen groups. According to the SLVEC, documents uncovered during this appeal suggest undue influence, if not criminal activity, in Mineral County’s Village approval process. Apparently, the documents in question show inordinate influence, even the drafting, of Mineral County approval requirements by none other than the developer’s own attorneys.

While County officials deny any wrongdoing, state Representative Mark Larson, 59th District, is calling for an investigation by the state Attorney General into possible lobbying abuses by Village at Wolf Creek developers and acts of collusion between the developers, the United States Forest Service and Mineral County.

Christine Canaly, Executive Director of the Ecosystem Council, said, “The Village at Wolf Creek is a microcosm exemplifying a culture of self-interest and corruption that has blossomed under the Bush Administration and their very clear agenda of privatizing public assets.” If it looks bad, it is bad. Stay tuned.