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BLM official says parcel was not offered in trade

Jeremy Heiman

A Bureau of Land Management official said her agency never committed a parcel of land to a swap that could secure the Ryan parcel in Ashcroft for the U.S. Forest Service.

Ann Huebner, field manager for the BLM’s Glenwood Springs Resource Area, said she doesn’t feel it would be in the public’s interest to commit a 40-acre Crystal River tract, known as parcel 79, to the deal. Huebner raised eyebrows with a Jan. 16 letter to Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle and Pitkin County Open Space director Dale Will that withdrew parcel 79 from the land swap.

“I don’t think it’s correct wording to say it was withdrawn,” Huebner said Friday. “I don’t think there was any formal commitment.” But “withdraw” was the word Huebner used in her letter.

Starting in mid-1999, the parties in the land swap, the Forest Service, Pitkin County and the Aspen Valley Land Trust, had discussions with the BLM on the possibility of adding parcel 79 into the deal. A BLM letter dated March 6, 2000, expresses the agency’s willingness to proceed with the exchange. That letter was written by acting area manager Steve Bennett, now Huebner’s subordinate.

Huebner said she believes a federal land appraisal needs to be done on the two primary parcels in the Ryan swap, the Ryan parcel and the Devaney parcel, before another tract, such as parcel 79, is even considered in the deal. The Devaney parcel is on Devaney Creek just north of the Toklat Gallery in Ashcroft.

“There’s been too much second-guessing,” she said.

Huebner said Pitkin County’s Open Space program has made decisions without the benefit of official federal appraisals of the two primary properties.

But an official appraisal requires commitment to the deal. Allan Grimshaw, a land and minerals specialist for the Forest Service’s Aspen Ranger District, said a land swap must be quite far along before an official federal appraisal can be done. The appraisal comes after the year-long process of environmental analysis under the National Environmental Protection Act, and after Congressional approval.

“Down toward the end of the process, an appraisal is done, because they get stale so fast,” Grimshaw said.

The decision to take parcel 79 out of consideration for the Ryan exchange was entirely her own, Huebner said, although she sought advice from BLM land experts in Denver.

“Nobody put any pressure on me,” she said. “I did not feel it was in the interest of the public, right now, to throw this parcel in.”

Huebner said she’s not in a hurry to get rid of parcel 79, but it is still under consideration for a trade.

“I would certainly consider a stand-alone land exchange,” she said. The parcel is currently not on a BLM “disposal list,” though it had been under an earlier federal administration, she said. Further, she said, she wouldn’t object to the parcel going to Pitkin County.

“Pitkin County has a good open space program,” Huebner said. It might be possible for the county to obtain parcel 79 through means other than the Ryan swap, she hinted.

Huebner said she wouldn’t consider turning over the property to private developers, except under exceptional circumstances.

“I would not participate in selling it to be developed,” Huebner said. “I wouldn’t consider it without preservation of a much better parcel.”

Parcel 79 is located six miles up the Crystal River and immediately south of the BRB Campground.

Its values are in recreation, wildlife habitat and a long stretch of natural riverbanks. This is one of the few stretches of the Crystal where the banks have not been fortified with scrap marble or other materials.

Huebner said no agreement exists with adjacent landowners allowing access to the land across the river, where the bulk of it lies.

The 35-acre Ryan parcel, formerly owned by the estate of skiing pioneer Ted Ryan, is located halfway between the King Cabin and the Pine Creek Cookhouse, on the west side of Castle Creek Road in Ashcroft. Key cross-country ski trails cross the property maintained by Ashcroft Ski Touring, which leased the property from the Ryan estate.

Pitkin County approved use of the Open Space and Trails funds to purchase the land in October 1999.

Along with the Aspen Valley Land Trust, the open space program has tried to arrange a trade for the Devaney parcel, which would then be sold to recoup the county’s investment.

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Posted: Tuesday, March 6, 2001


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