BLM dismisses three protests to Sutey exchange in the midvalley
The Aspen Times
Three protests to the controversial Sutey Ranch land exchange sought by Leslie and Abigail Wexner were dismissed, the Bureau of Land Management announced Wednesday.
BLM State Director Ruth Welch issued the denials. The parties were notified of the decision by letter this week so they now have 30 days to pursue an appeal, according to BLM Public Affairs Specialist Courtney Whiteman. Appeals would be heard by administrative judges in the Interior Board of Land Appeals in Arlington, Va. If there are no appeals, the land exchange will be completed.
The BLM approved the land exchange June 19. The Wexners received three parcels of formerly public lands near the base of Mount Sopris totaling 1,268 acres. The Wexners own Two Shoes Ranch in the Prince Creek area.
In exchange, the public receives the 557-acre Sutey Ranch adjacent to the Red Hill Recreation Area north of Carbondale. Red Hill is a popular recreation destination for hikers and mountain bikers. It is managed by the BLM, so the exchange provides continuity in ownership.
The public also received 112 acres along Prince Creek Road that can be incorporated into a popular trail network on lands managed by the BLM.
The Wexners also contributed $100,000 to cover the BLM’s costs to develop a management plan for the news lands and $1 million for long-term management of the land.
The original proposal divided many people in the conservation community. Opponents said it set a bad precedent of swapping valuable public land to wealthy landowners. Proponents said the public gained land valuable for midvalley recreation and open space.
The Pitkin County Commissioners were initially opposed to the deal, but it was sweetened via multiple revisions.
Protests were filed by Glenwood Springs resident Gregor Dorrett and Carbondale resident Linda Singer Froning. Dorrett asked, “Are our public trustees truly looking after the public’s land or merely courtesans of the wealthy?”
Singer Fronning also objected that the exchange was unfairly advantageous to the Wexners. Since the deal appeared imminent, she asked the BLM to improve parking and make it safer for the public to reach trails on Red Hill.
Welch’s dismissal of the protests said the BLM decided it was in the public interest to pursue the exchange. She wrote that the management plan for Red Hill/Sutey Ranch will examine issues raised by Singer Fronning.
An 18-page protest was filed by nonprofit Colorado Wild Public Lands Inc., which was formed specifically to oppose the exchange and others like it. Its members include Anne Rickenbaugh, a former member of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board of directors, and Hawk Greenway, a current director of the program.
Colorado Wild Public Land’s protest was a legal, technical document that garnered a much longer response from the BLM than the responses to the other two protests.
Some of the issues raised in the protest was that the appraisals of the land needed to be updated and that the deal violated the National Environmental Policy Act as well as BLM policy.
The BLM responded with an equally technical 18-page letter. The conclusion was the same as with the other two dismissals. “After careful review of the case record, it is evident tat the exchange meets the management objectives of the Colorado River Valley Field Office and is in accordance with the regulations found in (federal law),” Welch wrote.
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The Forest Service plans to replace the Carbondale Aspen-Sopris ranger district station with a newer, larger facility.