Letter to congressmen urges land swap despite Pitkin County’s stand | AspenTimes.com

Letter to congressmen urges land swap despite Pitkin County’s stand

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – More than 60 individuals, including several former elected officials in Pitkin County, have signed a letter addressed to Colorado congressional delegates urging their legislative support for the Sutey-Two Shoes Ranch land swap.

“This is simply too good a land use deal to allow Pitkin County to delay it further,” says the letter, drafted by Dorothea Farris and Connie Harvey. Farris is a former Pitkin County commissioner and current member of the Colorado Wildlife Commission, while Harvey is a longtime local rancher, environmentalist and wilderness advocate.

Commissioners recently received a copy of the letter and discussed it briefly during their work session Tuesday.

“I actually think it’s a pretty good letter, but you know my thoughts are different than the board’s,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield, who was most supportive of the trade among commissioners.

Commissioner Rachel Richards noted the letter was “inaccurate” in suggesting commissioners as a whole were demanding an acre-for-acre trade when just one commissioner took that stand.

Commissioners indicated they may draft their own letter, explaining their position. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s office has inquired about facilitating further talks to move the trade proposal forward, according to Commissioner George Newman.

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“I think Sen. Udall’s office is trying to see if there’s a way to bring the parties back together again,” Newman said. “If they can help, I think that’s great.”

The Farris/Harvey letter was sent to Udall, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. John Salazar.

The Wexners sought the county’s support for a land swap before seeking congressional approval of the deal, but talks between the county and the Wexners broke down, and the request for county endorsement has been withdrawn.

The purpose of the letter, Farris said, is to let congressional delegates know the views of Pitkin County government on the matter don’t necessarily reflect the views of at least some of its citizenry.

“To say Pitkin County does not believe it should happen is not necessarily true,” she said.

The letter lists the local governments, recreational groups and environmental organizations that have endorsed the trade. The letter’s signatories, along with Farris, include former commissioners Michael Kinsley, Leslie Lamont and Shellie Roy, as well as former Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester and former Aspen Mayor John Bennett.

The Wexners, owners of Two Shoes Ranch on the north flank of Mount Sopris, proposed trading the 520-acre Sutey Ranch north of Carbondale, near the Red Hill Recreation Area, to the Bureau of Land Management in exchange for 1,268 acres of BLM land abutting their Two Shoes Ranch.

The letter criticizes the county for failing to consider what is beneficial to the Roaring Fork Valley as a whole and calls the county’s “acre-for-acre demand” unreasonable.

“The Sutey area is readily accessible to thousands of people, whereas the BLM land lacks practical public access. This is a fair trade by any means,” the letter reads.

“What ought to be paramount is what the exchange will do for our valley and the public as a whole, not just for Pitkin County,” it says, listing various merits of the deal.

The Wexners are not prevented from seeking a congressional delegate to introduce a bill effecting the trade regardless of the county’s position, but county support was considered important to that process.

On Monday, Gideon Kaufman, the couple’s attorney, would not say what the couple intends to do next, saying they’re evaluating their options.

“Hopefully, this is not going away,” he said.

janet@aspentimes.com

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