Gems opposition is mounting |

Gems opposition is mounting

Dear Editor:

I was deeply dismayed to read John Goodwin’s letter “Public funds for a private agenda” in Monday’s paper. Not having seen the article in the Sopris Sun, I could not believe what I was reading: Carbondale, Basalt and Pitkin County all donated funds to Wilderness Workshop? As a lifelong resident of the valley, a 20-year Basalt business owner, and a Carbondale homeowner, these are my dollars being given to an organization whose agenda is controversial at best, and certainly an organization I do not support.

If the elected officials of these towns/and county wish to donate personal funds, then that is certainly their prerogative, but when it comes to how our public funds are distributed, I think they need to reassess their associations. Wilderness Workshop’s (W.W.) current agenda is their Hidden Gems proposal, which (in its current form) purports to reassign 400,000-plus acres of the White River National Forest as Wilderness, and severely limit public access. Although they have been working on this proposal for more than six years, they have only recently gained public opposition, after being told by local and state governments that they needed public input in order to move forward.

The August Frying Pan caucus meeting in Thomasville was when the first real public opposition was voiced, and the opposition quickly snowballed. Had it not been for our state representatives specifically asking for broad-range public input, including the support of local organizations and governments, W.W. would have kept this proposal “under the radar,” as they had for years. The two subsequent public meetings, in Carbondale and Eagle, were well-attended, but saw very little support for Hidden Gems, and extremely strong opposition (roughly 90/10 opposed). Carbondale’s Parks and Recreation department held the meeting to determine if they should support W.W.’s agenda, but decided they needed additional input before making a recommendation.

Four valley polls in local papers have all resulted in similar outcomes: 80/20 opposed. Local papers from Aspen to Vail have all had multiple pro and con articles and letters every week since August. As if that political controversy weren’t enough, Carbondale Parks and Recreation Department, Crystal River and Frying Pan caucuses and Mesa County have now all publicly denounced the Hidden Gems proposal. And yet, the towns of Basalt and Carbondale are helping fund this agenda?

The funds in question were allocated in 2008, which doesn’t excuse the funding of a political issue, but it definitely supports the fact that this six-plus-year issue was not under public scrutiny as little as a year ago. We need to determine the real agenda here … Why was W.W. adamant about presenting this proposal to Congress by the end of October (prior to real opposition)? Why is W.W. pushing so hard to send this to Congress in the next month or so? Why has W.W. stated that they do not want additional public meetings?

Say no to Wilderness Workshop’s “Hidden Agenda” – Wilderness is not the only congressional means of protecting our lands. Get Involved!

John Hembel


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