Pitkin County OKs land swap alternative
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
ASPEN, Colorado – Pitkin County commissioners unanimously endorsed an alternative proposal Tuesday to trade federal land for the Sutey Ranch, even though the landowners who initially proposed the swap have already turned down the county’s proposal.
Commissioners voiced hope that Leslie and Abigail Wexner will reconsider the county proposal, or at least return to the table for further discussion.
The county proposal is “an excellent starting point from our perspective,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “Now I hope we can have a real negotiation.”
The Wexners, in a letter, expressed a willingness to sit down with the commissioners – so far their representatives have worked with the county – but they also indicated they had no interest in the counteroffer that won commissioner approval yesterday.
The Wexners had originally proposed trading the 520-acre Sutey Ranch, located north of Carbondale and adjacent to the Red Hill Recreation Area, to the Bureau of Land Management in exchange for 1,268 acres of BLM land abutting the two pieces of their Two Shoes Ranch on the north flank of Mount Sopris, also near Carbondale.
The county countered with a proposal that would trade 873 acres of BLM property to the Wexners, but carve 536 acres out of Two Shoes Ranch, which would be combined with some BLM land and county open space to create the Potato Bill Creek Open Space. The open space would abut Forest Service land on the north flank of Sopris.
Sutey Ranch, though it would become public, is located in Garfield County. The Pitkin County proposal ensures a benefit in Pitkin County that commissioners deemed important – public access to the north flank.
“When it really comes down to it, we have to justify what we do to the people who elected us,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley.
Owsley expressed disappointment that the Wexners so quickly rejected the county’s counteroffer, which was made public late last week.
The county proposal would negatively impact both the ranching operation and wildlife, according to the response from the Wexners’ representatives.
But Commissioner Rachel Richards noted the county and the Wexners share the goals of protecting both the BLM land and the Sutey Ranch from development, including oil and gas extraction, and in securing potential recreational uses for the public at Sutey Ranch.
“I think we have more common goals here than we have disagreement,” she said. “I would like to see us work this out.”
Pitkin County officials have supported preservation of the Sutey Ranch from the start, though they balked privatizing the public land at the base of Sopris.
“That ranch is a time capsule of a homestead ranch that has been almost completely untouched by the outside world,” said Dale Will, director of the county’s Open Space and Trails program.
The Wexners purchased the Sutey Ranch for $6.5 million with the trade in mind, intending to seek congressional approval of the swap. Various other groups and governments, including Garfield County and the town of Carbondale, have endorsed the deal. Pitkin County’s support is considered important in easing approval at the federal level.
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