AVLT reluctant to give up conservation easement
The Aspen Valley Land Trust may have to hand over the deed to a conservation easement on the valleywide rail corridor, but it won’t do it willingly.
Land trust Director Reid Haughey said the AVLT board of directors voted unanimously recently to resist handing over control of the easement. “They didn’t say they won’t do it; they said they don’t want to,” Haughey said.
The land trust is entrusted with preserving the natural and recreation values of the 35-mile corridor between Glenwood Springs and Woody Creek. The Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority owns the corridor itself.
Earlier this year Congressman Scott McInnis said he would not support further federal funding for transit development of the corridor unless the easement was held by locally elected officials who are accountable to the public.
But, as a condition of granting $2 million toward purchase of the $8.5 million corridor in 1997, Great Outdoors Colorado stipulated a conservation easement be placed on the line to ensure preservation of land. The easement limits all but transportation and trail development.
In answer to McInnis’ demand, RFRHA has proposed formation of a new land trust, the Roaring Fork Land Conservancy, made up of elected officials from the valley as well as a number of non-elected members representing special interests like environmental groups and wildlife proponents.
But RFRHA has also recognized the dilemma of forming a land trust consisting of its own members. A potential conflict of interest exists since the owners of the corridor would also act as enforcers of the easement.
“I think this is a major problem,” said John Starr, an RFRHA board member who represents the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board.
The RFRHA board approved an intergovernmental agreement last Friday that would transfer the conservation easement from AVLT to the Roaring Fork Land Conservancy.
“I’m not aware of AVLT’s position, but this is not a slam dunk,” said Starr, a part-owner of The Aspen Times. “There’s no guarantee they’ll go along with this.”
Haughey said he had received a copy of the agreement last Thursday.
Garfield County, a nonvoting member of the RFRHA board, is also not prepared to accept the new agreement. Garfield County Commissioner John Martin presented a long list of objections to the deal, saying it changes the objectives and intent of the original IGA.
Asked if he would serve on the new land conservancy board, he answered, “No, not as it’s structured now. This particular board will not work.”
RFRHA has proposed a 19-member board consisting of two representatives each from the eight member governments, not all of whom will be elected officials. The remaining three seats will be filled with representatives of valley conservation groups.
Funding of the conservancy would continue through RFRHA. AVLT was granted an initial $100,000 from the holding authority, a portion of which – between $23,000 and $24,000 – has already been spent. The remainder would be returned to RFRHA upon the signing of the new easement agreement.
RFRHA would grant the new conservancy $100,000 to cover operating expenses. Thereafter, the conservancy would have to appeal to the RFRHA board for continued funding.
Haughey agreed with Starr that the transfer is hardly a sure thing. “He’s right, it’s not a slam dunk. I have no idea how we will go forward. We won’t amend the easement; we want to transfer it as is. We have a desire to hold the easement,” he added. The board feels it’s still charged with honoring the mission of the easement, Haughey said.
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