Garfield County commissioners want full environmental impact review of Sweetwater Lake park plans
A full-blown federal Environmental Impact Statement is warranted to weigh all the potential impacts of turning Sweetwater Lake into a new state park, Garfield County commissioners contend.
The commissioners signed a letter Monday to White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams suggesting the more-intensive analysis, rather than an Environmental Assessment (EA), which they admit may be a “logical first step” to gauge the impacts.
“However, we believe that converting the Sweetwater Lake property into a State Park managed by Colorado Parks & Wildlife represents a radical change to current circumstances and would significantly affect the quality of the human environment,” the letter signed by the three county commissioners states.
“As such, we believe an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is the proper tool and process within the (National Environmental Policy Act) to promote environmentally sensitive decision-making and to appropriately address this major federal action.”
The previous privately owned Sweetwater Lake was acquired by the U.S. Forest Service last year following a successful “Save the Lake” campaign orchestrated by the Eagle Valley Land Trust and funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Sweetwater Lake, situated in remote northeastern Garfield County but accessed via the Colorado River Road in Eagle County north of Dotsero, was operated as a private resort for many years. The potential for large-scale development prompted the Save the Lake campaign to put the land in the public’s hands.
Gov. Jared Polis, along with numerous state and federal officials, in October 2021 announced plans for the state to partner with the Forest Service to make Sweetwater the newest state park.
The proposal was the subject of a recent series of open house meetings, on site and in Gypsum and Glenwood Springs, to lay out some of the park options and gather initial public input.
Garfield County commissioners, who voted 2-1 in September 2019 to support the Save the Lake effort, have so far indicated they are not in favor of the park plan. They’ve asked to sign on as a cooperating agency in that planning effort.
Of concern to the commissioners, as stated in their letter, is that it seems the state park is being planned as a foregone conclusion, even so far as Colorado Parks and Wildlife hiring a Sweetwater Lake park manager.
“This is confusing because the property has yet to be confirmed as an official state park and, more importantly, the (Forest Service) has not even begun its required NEPA review, which can take years to complete before the management of the property can be handed to the State of Colorado,” the county’s letter points out.
“This circumstance appears to foster a perception that the end result of a state park has been predetermined and which, as a result, has excluded an important public process and critical stakeholder input.”
CPW Northwest Region Public Information Officer Rachael Gonzales confirmed Tuesday that Mark Lehman has been named park manager for the future park at Sweetwater.
The more-extensive EIS would provide additional opportunity to weigh all the impacts and allow more public comment on the park plan, commissioners stated in the letter.
“A simple EA does not have the bandwidth or capacity to adequately evaluate all of the important issues that will need to be evaluated,” the letter states. “An EIS is the proper tool to manage such a wide cast and large statewide effort.”
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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