- Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2015

DENVER (AP) - A federal judge has ordered federal officials to go back and search their files after he ruled that the U.S. Forest Service violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to conduct an adequate search and limiting what was disclosed about a proposed development in southwestern Colorado.

Environmental groups had requested information on the Village at Wolf Creek proposal, which they said would threaten wildlife and cause other environmental damage in the area. The proposal would offer 177 acres of private land in the Rio Grande National Forest in exchange for 205 acres of federal land.

Travis Stills, an attorney for the environmentalists, said Friday the Forest Service failed to justify its decision to withhold thousands of pages from public scrutiny.

“The most important part of the ruling is the finding that the Forest Service did not search places where they would expect to find information. They ignored places where actual proof exists,” Stills said.

Stills said the ruling by Judge Wiley Daniel includes documents from the agency’s office in Washington, D.C., and files from several regional office employees.

Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the agency will go back and review its files.

“The Forest Service has already released over 25,000 pages of material, and intends to carry out the steps ordered by the court,” Dorschner said.

The swap would give developer Leavell-McCombs about 200 acres of Rio Grande National Forest land for a road connecting a highway to the proposed development. The federal government would get 177 acres of privately held land.

Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas said in May not swapping land would have had the least environmental impact, but that McCombs and the other developers are entitled to right of way access so they can use their property.

The 1,711-unit ski village and access road have been tied up in lawsuits and reviews for years.

The San Juan Citizens Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council have filed several federal lawsuits seeking records of communications related to the land swap. The groups say the environmental impact statement supporting the Forest Service’s decision is incomplete and inadequate.

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