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Mountain News: Breckenridge tops Vail

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In an e-mail posted just before Christmas 2004, the Virginia-based environmental consultant assembling an environmental impact statement asks for the developer’s help in securing tickets for four company executives and their spouses to a Washington Redskins football game.

“These are the folks who really put their heart and soul into your EIS,” wrote Dr. Mark Blauer, director of Tetra Tech. The message was sent to Bob Honts, who is the frontman for McCombs at the project, called Wolf Creek Village.

Colorado Wild’s executive director, Ryan Demmy Bidwell, said his organization is checking into the legality of such favours.

“Regardless of whether it was legal or illegal, it is an entirely inappropriate relationship or action between a project proponent and allegedly independent contractor,” he said.

One consultant who prepares analysis for environmental impact statements — but not a fan of the Wolf Creek project — nonetheless downplayed the significance of the request. Although the contractor is working for the government agency, the nature of the work requires frequent contact with the developers, he said, nor are such requests salient in the big scheme of things.

Another e-mail message, sent in June 2005, further hints at a less than impartial relationship. “Like you, we would like this project to be over and for you to start construction of your Village,” Blauer tells Honts.

Andy Stahl, of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, suggested the requested favours may not be a legal issue. “The court judges an EIS on the basis of what’s between its front and back covers,” he said by e-mail. “Not legally relevant is who wrote it, why they write it, who paid for its writing, who is sleeping with whom, etc.”

But Stahl, like Colorado Wild, argues that what lies between the covers of the EIS is deficient. The development needs the road across Forest Service land, and to the inholding within national forest lands that McCombs obtained in a 1986 land exchange.

The Forest Service, in its EIS, had concluded there were no environmental impacts from the road construction. Colorado Wild, in its lawsuit, argues that the point is not the road, but the real estate project that would be enabled by the road. The group says the EIS should disclose those environmental impacts.

While this was getting sorted out, Colorado Wild obtained a preliminary injunction to block construction of the road. Federal magistrate David L. West has recommended extension of that injunction through 2007, until after the Colorado Wild-Forest Service case is expected to be heard.