Feds: Face-lift isn’t a done deal | AspenTimes.com

Feds: Face-lift isn’t a done deal

U.S. Forest Service officials insisted yesterday they won’t make any drastic changes to facilities in the Roaring Fork Valley – such as abandoning their Carbondale office – without giving the public a chance to comment.And White River National Forest Interim Supervisor Glenda Wilson said the public shouldn’t worry about a maintenance shop or dorm being built up at the Maroon Bells, as a consultant’s report suggests the agency should at least consider.Wilson said the consultant listed all conceivable options the Forest Service might want to consider for replacing or improving its aging administrative facilities in the sprawling forest. But the Forest Service won’t pursue all the alternatives on the list, such as building at the Bells, according to Wilson.”It’s a low priority – low priority to the point that we wouldn’t get to it,” she said.But when asked if construction of a workshop or seasonal housing at the Bells has been dismissed, Wilson said she couldn’t do that. “To say never … that’s one of those words that comes back to haunt you,” she said.But Wilson reiterated that building facilities at the Bells is “so far down the list of priorities that we’re not going to get there.”Last year the Forest Service hired a Washington, D.C., consulting firm that specializes in public-private partnership to help it determine how to replace facilities in the Roaring Fork and Eagle River valleys.Kormendi/Gardner Partners recommended the Forest Service sell or lease its land in downtown Carbondale and relocate offices to a new facility in El Jebel. The agency would retain its Aspen administrative site at the corner of 7th and Hallam streets but relocate most of its offices to El Jebel. The move is envisioned as part of the consolidation of the Aspen and Sopris districts.Wilson said a new or remodeled building in Aspen would include a better visitors center and offices for the district ranger and other vital personnel. However, she stressed that the Aspen site wouldn’t be sold and the Forest Service would keep a presence there.The agency will also continue to operate some type of visitors center in Carbondale, at least during summers, but the consultant’s report advises to dispose of the property.U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis introduced a bill in Congress June 24 that would allow the White River National Forest to take the steps necessary to lease or sell land and use the money to replace administrative facilities.The Pitkin County commissioners criticized the bill and the Forest Service’s plan for lack of pubic input, according to the Aspen Daily News. But Wilson and Forest Service spokeswoman Sue Froeschle claimed the agency wouldn’t take action without public input.Passage of a law that enables the Forest Service to take action shouldn’t be equated with a “done deal,” Froeschle said. It simply provides tools.Wilson said the passage of a bill would start the process, not end it. The consultants’ report provides the place to start. “It’s not a decision document. It’s a list of recommendations,” she said.As for the criticism of the process from the county commissioners, Wilson said some of their concerns and questions could have been answered if the Forest Service would have been invited to attend or consulted.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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