A plan to build an extensive residential and commercial complex near a remote southwestern Colorado ski area appears to be back on track after the U.S. Forest Service said Thursday it wanted to grant road access to a nearby highway.
The decision could pave the way for the development that would include more than 1,700 residential units near the base of the Wolf Creek Ski Area, The Durango Herald reported.
The would-be developers, a joint venture spearheaded by Texas billionaire B.J. "Red" McCombs, have sought since the 1980s to build the complex called the Village at Wolf Creek, but the property has always been cut off from U.S. Highway 160.
Thursday's decision, which is expected to be challenged, comes a little more than a year after a federal judge blocked a land swap that also sought to give the proposed development road access to the highway. In that ruling, Judge Richard Matsch said the Forest Service did not carefully consider the environmental impact and did not listen to the public's concerns.
The judge also called the Forest Service's decision biased and the subsequent environmental impact statement an "artful dodge" of the agency's responsibilities.
Rio Grande Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas told The Durango Herald Thursday that the agency reevaluated its options and is relying on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which grants landowners with property surrounded by the national forest system the right to "reasonable access."
"We still have a legal requirement to provide access to landlocked parcels," he said.
But the decision was especially jarring for the development's opponents, who thought Matsch's decision closed the book on the development.
"I've never seen anything this egregious in its disregard for the law," said Travis Stills, an attorney who represents the environmental groups opposed to the plan. "In normal times, people lose their jobs over things like this. But these are not normal times."
The proposed road would be about 1,610 feet long. Any proposal for the actual development would have to be approved by Mineral County officials.
The public can comment for the next 45 days on the Forest Service's proposal to grant road access. The agency is expected to announce its final decision this fall.