Federal Judge Matsch: “Get the guts of the case before me.”

By: Chris Talbot-Heindl, Communications & Membership Manager
July 12, 2016

Wolf Creek Pass Illustration
Wolf Creek Pass
Illustration by: Chris Talbot-Heindl

Last Friday, during a motions hearing on the Wolf Creek case, Friends of Wolf Creek asked Federal Judge Richard Matsch to compel the Forest Service to obtain and disclose records and billing statements from the contractors who prepared the environmental analysis. Friends of Wolf Creek also requested the confidential settlement agreement between the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture and the Wolf Creek Ski Area, which involved the challenged land exchange.

One of our lawyers for the case, Travis Stills, explained that the documents “we’ve received piece meal over the last two years paint an incomplete picture and our hope is that the requested documents would fill in the gaps.”

While Judge Matsch denied parts of the Motion to Compel dealing with the contractor records and billing statements, he stated that the contractor records could still be obtained through our ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case. The Judge added that if our FOIA case did result in the release of the contractor records, those documents could be added to the merits case at a later time.

“We believe the contractor records contain a missing piece to this puzzle and are hopeful we will have the opportunity to review that information through our ongoing FOIA litigation” stated Matt Sandler, Staff Attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild, “that said, we already have strong evidence to support our case and look forward to presenting that to the Court.”

Judge Matsch was particularly interested in the content of the confidential settlement agreement. The lawyer representing the Ski Area stated that the information contained in the settlement agreement is sensitive but did not provide insight into the relevancy to the litigation. Judge Matsch ordered the Department of Justice attorney for the Forest Service to review the document and determine the relevance of the information and report back to the Court.

Regarding the timeline of the merits case, Judge Matsch ordered that all parties should work together to complete the Administrative Record and determine a timeline for addressing the merits of the case. He ordered that the case start with the record as it stands now, supplemented with relevant parts of the secret settlement agreement and other documents that have already been identified. “Get the guts of the case before me,” he said.

The merits case asserts numerous violations of federal environmental laws, including the claims that the Forest Service unnecessarily limited the scope of its environmental analysis on a land exchange with the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture to avoid fully analyzing the impacts that the proposed development of a 8,000 person “village” would have on the Rio Grande National Forest and sensitive wildlife, including the Canada lynx.

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