Pitkin County commissioners debate BLM land policy
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Pitkin County will urge the Bureau of Land Management to first offer lands it wants to sell to other public agencies – local governments for example – but beyond that, county commissioners had difficulty Tuesday reaching agreement on what they’d like to say about the disposal of public land.
Commissioners wrestled for 90 minutes with comments the county intends to submit to the BLM regarding land disposal. The topic of “land tenure” is addressed in the BLM’s draft Resource Management Plan, a voluminous document that outlines four alternatives for managing land administered by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt. The plan covers about 505,000 surface acres, including 27,490 acres within Pitkin County.
Comments from agencies, government entities and the public are due Jan. 17, and county commissioners will take up their broader comments again next week. On Tuesday, they focused strictly on the land-disposal issue – a discussion colored by a land swap proposed by landowners Leslie and Abigail Wexner that commissioners declined to support after protracted negotiations. The proposed exchange, involving the Sutey Ranch north of Carbondale and BLM land on the flank of Mount Sopris, remains under BLM review and wasn’t directly related to the county’s deliberations Tuesday, but it was on commissioners’ minds. For one thing, two of the Wexners’ representatives were seated in the audience, taking notes.
“That is definitely in the background of our comments,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards.
Commissioners differed on what tone to take with the BLM. Commissioner Rob Ittner urged the county to soften its stance instead of advising that lands be conveyed out of public hands only with support from local governing agencies. That makes it sound like the county should have the final say on a disposition, he said.
“The BLM, they would laugh at us, I think,” Ittner said.
“I think we have to talk as hard a line as possible,” Commissioner George Newman countered. “I don’t think the BLM is going to take this lightly.”
“I think that’s something we should ask for, frankly,” Richards agreed.
Commissioner Michael Owsley urged his colleagues to make Pitkin County’s values paramount when an action involves local land. What’s in the “public interest” needs to mean the public interest within the county, he said.
“I think we need to be clear about that,” Owsley said.
Commissioners also debated whether land exchanges with private parties should result in no “net loss of acreage” or something else that takes into account the property’s value in terms of public benefit. Acreage alone as a standard is “too simplistic,” Hatfield said.
County staff members were left to distill the commissioners’ input into a cohesive position with the next iteration of comments, for review on Jan. 10.
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