BLM, Sutey land swap moves slowly forward
The Aspen Times
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
The public is likely to get a chance this fall to comment on the proposed exchange of Bureau of Land Management property for the privately held Sutey Ranch, north of Carbondale.
The proposed trade, in the BLM’s hands since February, is in the midst of a detailed internal review by the agency, according to spokesman David Boyd of the BLM office in Silt.
The sole formal action that has been taken so far is to remove the BLM land contemplated in the trade from the possibility of any new mining claim or right of way application, for example, that would compromise the agency’s ability to swap it for something else. It’s called a “Segregation of Public Lands Identified for Exchange” and is a standard step when a parcel is identified for a possible trade, Boyd said.
“If we decide not to go through with that exchange, the segregation would be lifted,” he said.
Also ongoing is a feasibility study and surveys to document such things as biological, cultural and mineral resources on both of the properties proposed in the trade.
Private consultants hired by the proponents of the exchange, landowners Leslie and Abigail Wexner, are doing the work, but the consultants come from a BLM-approved list, Boyd said.
If a survey was to, for example, reveal a rare species or important archeological feature on the BLM land, it could prevent the swap from moving forward.
“It wouldn’t be in the public’s interest to lose that,” Boyd said.
By the same token, the Sutey Ranch, which would become public, is getting the same scrutiny, he said. The anticipated public interest in acquiring the Sutey property is in its wildlife habitat and recreational potential.
Once the work is done, a notice of the proposed exchange will be published in the Federal Register and a 30-day public comment period will follow. Boyd said that step will probably occur in September.
Then, the BLM will conduct an environmental assessment on the properties, probably in early 2012 (also paid for by the Wexners). Another public comment period will follow the release of the assessment.
The earliest the actual trade could be completed, if it goes through, is probably late in 2012, Boyd said.
“It’s a long process by design,” he said. “Land exchanges are very important decisions.”
The Wexners are looking to acquire 1,464 acres of BLM land adjoining their Two Shoes Ranch at the base of Mount Sopris, south of Carbondale.
They have offered to trade the 557-acre Sutey Ranch and its water rights, plus 117 acres used by mountain bikers at the base of the Crown, outside of Carbondale, to the BLM.
The couple originally intended to seek a congressional approval of the swap, but after butting heads with Pitkin County for more than a year in an effort to win the county’s endorsement of the trade, they opted for an administrative exchange to be reviewed and acted upon by the BLM.
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