County officials on the bus to lobby for tree farm |

County officials on the bus to lobby for tree farm

The Pitkin County Commissioners are on the bus when it comes to the Mount Sopris Tree Farm.

The commissioners agreed Tuesday to lobby their counterparts in Eagle County to collect more public advice on where to build an office building in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The commissioners will even hop a bus with midvalley residents to get their message across.

A tour bus is being provided by the Basalt town government and developers of the Willits project to haul midvalley citizens to the Eagle County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Feb. 27.

“We’ve basically been told, `If you want to be heard, come to us,’ ” said Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens. So that’s exactly what’s happening.

The bus will make the 55-mile trip from Basalt to the county seat of Eagle for a 5:30 p.m. meeting, which could result in final approval of the office building and community center at the tree farm.

The midvalley contingent will ask the Eagle County Commissioners to delay a decision and hold more meetings in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Eagle County plans to build a 15,000-square-foot structure in the northeast corner of the tree farm, closest to the main El Jebel intersection on Highway 82.

The majority of the Basalt Town Council wants the facility built one-half mile further upvalley at the Willits development. A citizens’ group led by midvalley resident Laurie Gish-Soliday collected 200 signatures on a petition asking the Eagle County Commissioners to reconsider where they build the office.

Both sides in the dispute rattle off multiple reasons why their site is better. Willits proponents claim it makes more sense from a land-use planning perspective. They also say that the land and infrastructure costs would be waived at the Willits site soon to be owned by the town of Basalt.

Eagle County officials counter that they have already spent substantial funds on the tree farm site preparation and that they have the support of citizens.

The debate has been held in varying degrees of intensity for seven years – since Eagle and Pitkin counties teamed to acquire the tree farm in a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service.

The Pitkin County Commissioners decided they won’t tell Eagle County officials where to build, but they will encourage them to reconsider Willits and hold a meeting in the Basalt-El Jebel area before deciding.

They were asked to intervene in the debate by Stevens and four Town Council members.

“There’s a pissing match scenario that we can’t seem to get past,” said Basalt Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt.

“We’re very much interested in having the public process honored in this valley,” responded Pitkin County Commissioner Chairman Mick Ireland. “I think they should come over here and meet with all of us. I think you need to get their attention.”

Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris said she believes the site selection is ripe for debate, but she said foes of the plan to build the office at the tree farm need to fight fair. Some of those foes inaccurately claim the tree farm was acquired solely for open space and recreation, Farris said. The local governments always said that building an office was an intended use of the tree farm, she added.

Nevertheless, Farris agreed that an alternative site may be better than the tree farm. As many as four Pitkin County Commissioners may make the trip to Eagle to deliver that message.

Whether they carry any weight with the Eagle County Commissioners remains to be seen.

“You may have a hearing over here and still not sway them,” said Ireland. “We can’t make them.”

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