DENVER (AP) — The Rio Grande National Forest recommended approval of a land swap Thursday that would allow a developer to build an access road to a proposed ski village near the remote Wolf Creek Ski Area in southwestern Colorado.

Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture wants to build about 1,700 residential units at the base of Wolf Creek, and the swap would give it the land it needs to connect the development to a highway.

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The ski area and proposed village are near Wolf Creek Pass, about 175 miles southwest of Denver.

Billionaire Billy Joe “Red” McCombs, one of the people behind the project, did not immediately return a call through his attorney Thursday.

A coalition of conservation groups criticized the recommendation and said it would challenge the land swap.

The development could interfere with a migration route for threatened Canada lynx and hurt wetlands and other habitat, said Christine Canaly, executive director of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council.

The National Forest Service said the developers would have to agree to lynx conservation measures, including paying for a study, building worker housing and providing employee shuttles to minimize traffic.

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The Forest Service says the measures would be binding on Leavell-McCombs and any subsequent owners of the development.

The ski village and access road have been tied up in lawsuits and reviews for years. Thursday’s recommendation is a step toward resolving the issue, but it is still subject to challenge and delays.

The announcement triggers a 45-day period for objections.

The recommendation would give Leavell-McCombs 204 acres of national forest land valued at more than $1.4 million.

The federal government would get 178 acres of privately held land valued at more than $1.5 million. The government would pay the developer $70,000 to make up the price difference.

By Dan Elliott, AP Writer

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