For anyone who has ever attended a local government planning meeting, it is a familiar sight: A developer or lawyer wheels in a stack of boxes, crammed full of what are presumed to be crucial documents necessary to make a convincing case to decision makers.
Not necessarily, it turns out. At least not in Eagle County.
That's where the Adam's Rib Recreational Area development company has been attempting to coax a new ski area out of the county's lucrative hills, which already have proven their drawing power with Vail and Beaver Creek. Yet numerous delays (see "Powder Keg," October 6, 1993) have forced the company to drag out the planning of a new resort for nearly two decades.
So it was not too surprising when, two weeks ago, Adam's Rib representatives made one more trek to an Eagle County Board of Commissioners meeting to request yet another extension. Nor was it particularly surprising to see--again--Adam's Rib owner Fred Kummer, a St. Louis hospital and hotel baron, walk into the meeting accompanied by a dolly loaded with four large boxes of paperwork supposedly demonstrating the company's hard work and progress.
Rather, the unusual part came when new commissioner James Johnson actually asked to have the documents entered into the record so he could review them before agreeing to a more or less perfunctory thumbs-up for an extension. After all, he explains, "Any decision I make as a county commissioner, I need to review. That's what my responsibility is."
Besides, county attorney Jim Fritz pointed out that night, "For all we know, there could be a Kansas City phone book in there."
Johnson says he asked for sixty days to go through the material, given its bulk, but the other commissioners balked. They eventually settled on two weeks. Johnson cleared his calendar and began digging into the boxes. He didn't find a Kansas City phone book. But he says he did discover that Adam's Rib had assembled, among other documents:
One (1) tourism guide for Northern Idaho, 1988 edition.
One (1) automated telephone calling guide, 1987 edition.
One (1) edition each of the Vail Trail and the Avon-Beaver Creek Times, both from 1988.
One (1) Securities and Exchange Commission filing for Gillett Holdings Inc. (the company once owned Vail, but has nothing to do with Adam's Rib).
Several applications for 1988 Colorado hunting licenses.
Two (2) large ledger pads. Blank.
Many other documents were outdated and not remotely related to the company's request for an extension, Johnson says. In all, he estimates that about 80 percent of the paper stuffed into the boxes was irrelevant to the decision he was being asked to make.
"Actually," he says, "it was kind of a relief knowing that I didn't have to review everything in the boxes. It was like thinking that you had War and Peace as a classroom assignment and discovering that it was only Reader's Digest."
Not everyone in Eagle County has found the development company's strange choice of support material so calming. The proposed ski resort has generated an avalanche of opposition ever since county officials approved initial sketch plans in 1982. A local activist group, Concerned Citizens of Eagle County, quickly sued the U.S. Forest Service, claiming that the government had granted Adam's Rib a use permit irresponsibly. The activists lost, but the suit delayed the project until 1985.
Since then, Adam's Rib has slogged through paperwork required by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (part of the resort would be built in wetlands) and local agencies. The result is that the company has been forced to ask the county for more time to complete its preliminary plans in 1985, 1988 and 1991.
This time around, however, Adam's Rib may not have it so easy. The feeling among many locals is that the boxes of paperwork were never intended for review by the commissioners, but were simply an attempt by Adam's Rib to intimidate the officials with bulk.
"It showed utter contempt for the process, for the commissioners and the others involved in this," fumes Gene Lorig, an Eagle attorney who helped push the lawsuit against the Forest Service. "Adam's Rib wanted the thing to overwhelm them." Adds Kathy Heicher, a county planning commissioner, "I think they were just being dramatic."
Not so, claims Adam's Rib general manager Charles Wick. "For some reason, one of the commissioners wanted to make a big deal out of this," he complains. "And there is nothing to it, absolutely nothing."
Wick says he can't explain everything in the boxes, which were labeled "Legal Docs, Concerned Citizens et al. v. U.S. Forest Service." But he calculates that only six percent of the material was not relevant to the commissioners' decision. For instance, he suspects that the papers and pamphlets from 1988 were exhibits in the company's various legal activities--although he concedes he doesn't know for certain.
He adds that, even though it was not directly applicable to Adam's Rib's request for additional time, the voluminous background material--some of it dating to the early 1970s--was included just in case the commissioners wanted to review the project's history.
The county commissioners' two-week review period was up on August 23, when they were scheduled to decide whether they want to grant Adam's Rib one more extension. Johnson, for one, wasn't tipping his hand, saying only that "I've got as much information as I need based on the information they've submitted."
A rejection of the company's request could be devastating to Adam's Rib. The company essentially would have to start from the beginning of the planning approval process, a setback that could cost additional years and money. Still, Lorig says that he would not be surprised to see commissioners give Adam's Rib another chance, despite what he perceives as a gross insult.
"I've grown old enough to realize I oughtn't ever to underestimate the stupidity of public officials," he says.