updated 2/6/2006 11:58:05 AM ET 2006-02-06T16:58:05

The federal official who plays a key role in plans for a southern Colorado ski area development has repeatedly met with the developer and his staff, The Denver Post reported Sunday.

Quoting records and interviews, the newspaper also reported that Texas billionaire B.J. "Red" McCombs, lobbied to get the official, Mark Rey, his job as undersecretary of agriculture. Rey oversees the Forest Service, which will determine whether the $1 billion project moves forward near the Wolf Creek ski area.

Rey declined to discuss the development with the Post, but said through a spokeswoman that Forest Service officials in Colorado are handling the project that calls for 222,100 square feet of commercial space, hotels and homes for up to 10,500 people.

It is opposed by the owners of the ski area, environmental groups and others. The Forest Service later this month is expected to decide whether to approve a key access road to the development site.

Rey has met repeatedly with McCombs' staff and McCombs himself to discuss the project, the Post reported, citing Rey's calendar and other documents.

Bob Honts, spokesman for McCombs, said he is just a frustrated developer trying to work his way through the bureaucracy.

"Is he a leading citizen? Yes, he is. Does he have a lot of friends because of that? Yes, he does. (But) I'm not aware that he has become a great force in politics," he said, adding that McCombs did lobby for Rey's appointment. McCombs, among other things, is a co-founder of Clear Channel Communications.

Environmentalists and the Pitcher family, the ski hill owners, have opposed the project's size. The Pitcher family has paid the law firm of Hogan & Hartson at least $180,000 since October 2004 to lobby on behalf of its interests in its dispute with McCombs.

The law firm is a top contributor to Rep. John Salazar and his brother, Sen. Ken Salazar, both D-Colo., according to Opensecrets.org. Both men have opposed McCombs' project.

Randy Karstaedt, an official at the Forest Service's Lakewood office, questioned a request by Honts to see an early draft of an environmental impact statement on the project. "I have ... concerns about this," he wrote in an e-mail to a colleague in August 2004, according to the Post.

Karstaedt said no drafts were shared and told the newspaper "I have not had any attempt to influence our analysis."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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