News Roundup (and a rant!)
Village at Wolf Creek foiled again; a tax on Saudi alfalfa growers; and a hometown rant!
The Village at Wolf Creek has been foiled by the courts, yet again. Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello vacated the U.S. Forest Service’s 2019 approval of an access road to the proposed development near the summit of Wolf Creek Pass.
It’s another blow—albeit perhaps not fatal—to a project that has been in the works since 1986, when Texas billionaire Red McCombs first acquired a 300-acre, high-elevation Forest Service tract in a land exchange. McCombs hoped to build a 2,200-unit development on the land near the base of Wolf Creek Ski Area that could house as many as 10,000 people (later downgraded to 1,700 units and 8,000 people). The developers call their sprawling would-be town a “boutique base village” that offers “a truly unique, enhanced outdoor and wilderness experience.” Yeah, okay.
But McCombs had a hurdle or two to overcome, first. One was intense opposition from local and regional environmental groups, who pointed out how dumb and destructive it was to build an entirely new town—boutique or otherwise—in a relatively undisturbed forest at 10,400 feet in elevation. The second obstacle was a chunk of public land separating Highway 160 from the privatized parcel.
In order to proceed with the development, McCombs either needs to acquire the parcel via another swap, or get an easement across it. The USFS approved a land exchange in 2014; a federal court shot it down in 2017. The agency then approved an access road in 2019; and Friends of Wolf Creek sued. On Oct. 20, Arguello ruled in favor of the Friends of Wolf Creek, writing:
Although the Court recognizes that USFS “must take some action to provide” Intervenor with access to its inholding … the Court finds that the law of the case doctrine requires setting aside the agency action in this case. As another judge in this District found … Respondents “failed to consider important aspects of the issues before them, offered an explanation for their decision that runs counter to the evidence, failed to base their decision on consideration of the relevant factors, and based their decision on an analysis that is contrary to the law.”
Developers told the Colorado Sun they are considering next steps.
I’ve written about alfalfa and water use once or twice in this space. I’ve also pointed out that some of that alfalfa—and therefore Western water—is being shipped overseas to feed hundreds of thousands of head of Saudi Arabian dairy cattle because, well, Saudi Arabian alfalfa fields already sucked that country dry.
Now two Arizona congressmen want to put a stop to that. Rep. Ruben Gallego, with backing from Rep. Raul Grijalva, last week introduced a bill that would levy a 300% excise tax on “any specified water intensive crop” sold “by a manufacturer, producer, or importer thereof … which is a foreign corporation or foreign government,” in areas experiencing prolonged drought.
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