Pitkin County preparing new land swap proposal
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
The Crystal River Caucus voted Thursday to support the Carbondale-area land swap proposed by landowner Leslie Wexner, though Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman urged the group to hold off while the county further modifies its proposal for the exchange.
The caucus, meeting in Redstone, endorsed the latest deal put on the table by Wexner by a 36-6 vote, with two members abstaining.
The group did, according to Newman, acknowledge it could consider the land exchange again, depending on what the county puts forward.
Wexner’s representatives outlined for the caucus their most recently modified proposal to effect the swap of 1,268 acres of Bureau of Land Management property on the north flank of Mount Sopris, south of Carbondale, for the 520-acre Sutey Ranch to the north of Carbondale.
The county intends to counter with another proposal in a week or two in an effort to come up with parameters for an exchange that both sides can accept, Newman said.
Most recently, the county dropped its call for recreational access to an open space parcel it proposed be created on the north flank of Sopris in the area of Potato Bill Creek. The open space was to combine some BLM land and existing county open space with 536 acres from Wexner’s Two Shoes Ranch. Wexner and his wife, Abigail, rejected the proposal and wildlife officials panned the recreational access as detrimental to important habitat.
“The county is going to come up with a new compromise proposal,” Newman said Friday.
Commissioners met behind closed doors on Tuesday and again Wednesday to discuss the land exchange, announcing at the start of Wednesday’s meeting that they would pull the recreational access on Potato Bill Creek off the table.
Whether creation of the open space, without public access, is still envisioned wasn’t made clear and Newman declined to discuss the specifics of what is now being considered, except to say commissioners are still looking to make the exchange more “equitable.”
Among the commissioners’ beefs is that the land Wexner would acquire is in Pitkin County, but the Sutey Ranch, which has both recreational and wildlife attributes, is in Garfield County.
The commissioners are looking for a deal that enhances public access, recreation and wildlife management on public lands in Pitkin County, Newman said.
“We’re back to looking at other amenities that we feel are important,” he said. “We’re not saying, ‘no, go away.’ We want to move forward with a compromise proposal.”
Attorney Gideon Kaufman, representing the Wexners, said Friday that he wants to see both sides move forward on the proposal that’s on the table – the one proposed by the Wexners.
“That’s the only proposal that’s on the table right now as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
“The Crystal River is the area that’s most affected,” Kaufman said. “They overwhelmingly supported it. Our feeling is they [commissioners] ought to listen to the advice of their caucus. They ought to support the proposal.”
Wexner’s representatives intend to seek congressional approval of the land exchange. Though Pitkin County has no decision-making power in the matter, its endorsement is thought to be important to securing approval at the federal level. Various other groups and governments have already endorsed the swap, including Garfield County, the town of Carbondale and the Aspen Valley Land Trust.
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A report released this month by the Center for Colorado River Studies says that in order to sustainably manage the river in the face of climate change, officials need alternative management paradigms and a different way of thinking compared with the status quo. Estimates about how much water the Upper Colorado River Basin states will use in the future are a problem that needs rethinking, according to the white paper.