Disputed Carbondale land exchange headed to court | AspenTimes.com

Disputed Carbondale land exchange headed to court

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
The scenic Sutey Ranch, north of Carbondale.
Aspen Times File

In an effort to reverse an already completed land exchange with the federal government involving two Carbondale-area ranch properties, Basalt-based Colorado Wild Public Lands is taking the matter to federal court.

The Interior Board of Land Appeals in March ruled, following an administrative appeal by the nonprofit watchdog group, that the BLM could proceed with the exchange.

The deal, which has been in the works since 2011, places the 557-acre Sutey Ranch north of Carbondale and the 112-acre Haines parcel along Prince Creek Road near the popular Crown Mountain bike trail system into public hands.

In exchange, Two Shoes Ranch owners Leslie and Abigail Wexner are to take ownership of 1,268 acres of Bureau of Land Management land in Pitkin County, south of Carbondale.

But Colorado Wild Public Lands has now filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Denver against the BLM for its approval of the deal.

The complaint contends that the BLM and its appraiser significantly undervalued the federal land parcels being offered to the private parties in the exchange, “thereby violating the equal value requirements of the Federal Land Management and Policy Act,” according to a news release announcing the latest legal action.

Withholding of the appraisals during the public comment period also violated procedures established under the National Environmental Policy Act concerning public participation, the group said.

“Coloradans have a right to know the players, motives and processes behind government transfers of public land into private ownership,” according to the group’s statement.

“[COWPL] is committed to the preservation of and accessibility to public lands, and to public participation in the management and decision-making processes that concern these lands,” the release stated.

If a federal agency does not properly follow the processes of analysis, documentation and disclosure in its decision-making, it may become vulnerable to legal action, the group further explained.

“In this case, BLM is trading away public land to private owners,” the group concluded in its statement. But the land values for the public properties — which were made public only through legal pressure — are grossly under-appraised, making the exchange uneven and, COWPL asserts, illegal.”