A resident responds to a plaintive question from Wolf Creek developer Red McCombs


"All my life, I have always wondered why there is antagonism toward developers," said billionaire developer B.J. "Red" McCombs recently during a forum on his proposed resort atop remote Wolf Creek Pass, in southwestern Colorado. I can answer Mr. McCombs, but first, some history:

At issue is a massive project on an inholding (private land surrounded by public land) that McCombs, co-founder of Clear Channel Communications and former owner of both the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Vikings, acquired in 1986, following a disputed land swap with the Forest Service. The land sits at more than 10,300 feet in the eastern San Juan Mountains, and adjacent to the small, family-owned Wolf Creek Ski Area. McCombs' Village at Wolf Creek would house 10,000 skiers and offer nearly 250 million square-feet of commercial space. The Forest Service originally denied the land exchange, but in a controversial move reversed its decision two weeks later.

McCombs' question was rhetorical because the forum was boycotted by the only critics of the project invited to speak. State Sen. Jim Isgar and state Rep. Mark Larson had announced they wouldn't attend because no other knowledgeable critics were invited. Opponents, however, were present. A standing-room-only crowd of nearly 300 people listened to the speakers inside; outside, protesters with signs were watched over by police.

In the spirit, then, of easing some of the antagonism, I'd like to relieve Mr. McCombs of his life-long befuddlement about hostility to developers. How do we not love thee? Let me count down the ways:

5. You insult us. Let's begin with the forum at which you voiced your bemusement. Left off the list of approved panelists was a representative from Colorado Wild, the environmental group that exposed the intimate collaboration between your employees, Mineral County and the U.S. Forest Service in approving parts of the project. Rep. Larson, who you did invite, has already had a taste of how you operate. In March, when he introduced a Statehouse resolution asking Congress to "take notice" of local objections to the ski-resort development, your spokesman called him "the coward of the county."

4. Because you not only remind us how much influence money can buy in this country today, you also flaunt it. I'm sorry you don't like Colorado Wild, but we who live here appreciate its willingness to dig out the facts. We also can't afford the lobbying you can — the kind you engaged in to help get Mark Rey appointed undersecretary of the Interior in charge of the Forest Service, and to get such personal attention from him after his appointment. Or to get Tom DeLay to try to tack an amendment onto a congressional bill bypassing Forest Service approval for an easement across public land for the project. Or to give Mineral County officials such helpful guidance in drafting their approval of the project that a district judge overturned the county's approval, calling it "arbitrary and capricious."

3. Because your project harms the public land we live here for, and the non-human life we share this place with. Yes, I realize this is probably something else you've never understood, but we still care about such things. Wolf Creek Pass, where you want to build your "village," is a vital migration corridor for the recently restored lynx and other wildlife between two of the wildest places left in Colorado, the South San Juan Wilderness and the Weminuche Wilderness.

2. Because your bloated project is all wrong for a world of global warming, struggles for oil, and the continuing loss of wild country. Those of us who live in the Four Corners area already bear much of the brunt of resource gluttony. Massive projects such as the Navajo Dam, McPhee Dam and the just-being-built $500 million Animas-La Plata Project deplete our rivers; oil and gas development in the San Juan Basin scars our public lands with roads and pipelines while it sticks noisy gas wells in people's backyards; and four new coal-fired power plants are in various stages of development in a region that suffers from the worst coal-fired power-plant pollution in the country.

And the Number One reason we don't love you? Your greed. You already have a billion dollars. Why slap together yet another mega-resort of second or third homes and glitzy shopping and industrial recreation that will forever alter the land and down-home culture that we love?

I'm afraid that I know the answer: Because you can.

But don't count your local opponents out: We're not going away.

Ken Wright is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He is a writer in Durango, Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.