Pitkin County should endorse land swap | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County should endorse land swap

Aspen, CO Colorado

Pitkin County commissioners certainly deserve credit for putting the brakes on the Two Shoes-Sutey Ranch land swap near Carbondale, and thus exacting significant new concessions and inducements from the Wexner family.

With that said, however, it’s time to stop the delays and move ahead with this exchange, which has the support of conservationists and governments throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.

Here are the simple outlines of the proposed trade. Billionaire Leslie Wexner wishes to privatize 1,268 acres of federal land near the base of Mount Sopris to consolidate his land holdings there. Wexner’s Two Shoes Ranch is now split by a long, narrow parcel administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. In exchange for acquiring the BLM property, Wexner has offered the 520-acre Sutey Ranch, located north of Highway 82 and near the existing Red Hill network of recreational trails.

To date, Pitkin County has offered a number of reasons for its hesitance on the deal: Wexner stands to gain much more land than the public; once privatized, the BLM land will never return to public hands; the county would give up land inside its borders while Sutey is in Garfield County, etc. Others have said the whole thing smells like a sellout to the super-rich, and we suspect some officials from the most notoriously overpriced county in the state feel the same way.

Setting aside the class warfare, however, this deal is a good one for the public. Nearly 1,300 acres of steep, rugged and mostly inaccessible public land would be exchanged for 520 acres that the Aspen Valley Land Trust calls its “highest priority parcel.” The once-public land would be permanently protected with a conservation easement, and the now-private Sutey parcel would be preserved from development and managed for seasonal recreation and winter wildlife habitat purposes.

In addition, Wexner recently sweetened the pot with the following:

• BLM would receive $1.1 million to manage the Sutey Ranch into the future;

• 10 approved development rights on the lower flanks of Two Shoes Ranch would be relinquished, helping to preserve open space and views along Highway 133 and the Crystal River;

• 270 acres of new conservation easements would bring to 2,600 acres the total Two Shoes property under conservation.

Pitkin County pushed for a better deal, and the commissioners deserve thanks for these additional offers from the Wexner family. But the time has come to complete this deal. Commissioners have scheduled a meeting with Wexner representatives on April 20, and we hope they’ll use that occasion to endorse this deal, which includes numerous public benefits at no cost to taxpayers.

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