Don’t spoil Sutey deal
November 13, 2009
We’re glad to see Pitkin County isn’t taking the proposed loss of public lands within its borders lightly, but it’s time for the county commissioners to grit their teeth and throw their support behind the proposed swap of acreage at the base of Mount Sopris for the Sutey Ranch – or at least remain silent on the matter.
In a nutshell, billionaire retailer Leslie Wexner wants to fold 1,268 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management land on the north flank of Sopris into his existing landholdings there and has offered up the 513-acre Sutey Ranch north of Carbondale, purchased with this trade in mind, to the BLM in exchange.
Wexner’s representatives are looking for Pitkin County’s support under the assumption it will ease congressional approval of the deal if local governments are on board. Garfield and Eagle counties have already endorsed it, as has the town of Carbondale.
Pitkin County’s unease is somewhat justified. The deal smacks of the super-rich buying whatever they want – in this case, our land. And, the county won’t have any real power when it comes to management of the Sutey Ranch once the ranch is under BLM purview. Finally, the deal turns over public land within Pitkin County in exchange for property in Garfield County.
Commissioners note they’ve heard from plenty of citizens who favor the exchange – unfortunately, they’re mostly residents of Garfield County rather than their own constituents.
Garfield County residents, incidentally, don’t tax themselves to fund an open space program in order to preserve parcels they feel are critical – the Sutey Ranch, for example – the way Pitkin County property owners do.
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On the other hand, the BLM land Wexner is hoping to call his own is not easily accessible and, outside of the hunting community, few of us will ever make a point of traipsing across it. Its value for many of us is primarily aesthetic – it’s part of the brush-covered, undeveloped landscape at the base of Sopris that we can admire as we drive past on Highway 133.
It will remain that way under Wexner’s ownership, because he’s agreed to place a conservation easement over it prohibiting its development. Ditto on the Sutey Ranch, where proponents are quick to note the ranch will likely be subdivided and developed if the deal doesn’t go through. It is, after all, in Garfield we-never-met-a-strip-mall-we-didn’t-like County.
Early discussions indicate limited recreational opportunities on the Sutey Ranch could come out of the deal. A mountain biking route linking to the adjacent, popular Red Hill area comes to mind. Backcountry skiers would no doubt drool over the prospect of making tracks on the scenic expanse, but wildlife officials are already advocating closure of the property during the winter out of wildlife concerns, and we grudgingly agree.
At any rate, we feel there is legitimate, broad community interest in acquiring the Sutey Ranch as public land, given that little will change on the BLM land that goes to Wexner.
And if Garfield County residents happen to feel they owe us one, maybe they can get off the dime and start up their own open space program.