Pitkin County struggles with letter on land swap | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County struggles with letter on land swap

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Pitkin County is having trouble getting its thoughts on the Sutey-Two Shoes Ranch land swap down on paper.

After about 60 proponents of the land exchange, including former elected officials, signed a letter of support that went to Colorado’s congressional delegates, county commissioners decided a letter explaining their position on the matter should also go to the delegation.

The initial letter, written by former Commissioner Dorothea Farris and local rancher Connie Harvey, advocated letting the exchange proceed despite Pitkin County government’s opposition.

Commissioners this week reviewed a draft of their letter, written by Open Space and Trails Director Dale Will at their direction, then sent him back to rework the four-page missive.

The draft letter delves into the various proposals put forward by landowners Leslie and Abigail Wexner, and the county’s counterproposals, and explains the county’s concerns about the federal appraisal process that a congressionally approved land swap entails. The county contends the appraisal won’t take into account the true value of the public land the Wexners would realize. It is a detailed letter, describing the complexities of the offers presented by both sides and the available federal processes to effect a land trade.

“If you read it cold … you’d be lost, I think,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley on Wednesday. “I’m having difficulty and I’ve attended virtually all of these discussions.”

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Owsley urged a rewrite of the letter, while other commissioners said what’s needed is an introduction that more simply describes the county’s philosophical qualms with the swap.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield, who did not side with the rest of the group in its opposition to the trade, said he supports a letter to clarify the county’s position, but doesn’t want it to indicate the commissioners are unanimous in their stand.

Commissioners intend to send the letter to U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. John Salazar. A representative of Udall’s office, policy advisor Doug Young, meanwhile, has offered to meet with commissioners to discuss the federal land-trade process, according to Hatfield.

“I would like us to take him up on this offer,” Hatfield said.

“I think it would clear the air on all the issues,” Commissioner Patti Kay-Clapper agreed.

Udall’s office had previously offered to facilitate further discussions between the Wexners and the county, which broke off in May, noted Commissioner Rachel Richards. It appears that’s no longer the purpose of a meeting, she said.

“I’m getting a little concerned that Senator Udall’s beginning to take an advocacy role with the board,” Richards said. “If they’ve already made up their mind, so be it. We can just send a letter that says ‘thanks very much.'”

“I would hope we’re not presumptuous enough to think the senator is promoting one side over the other,” Hatfield responded.

The Wexners have not yet asked any member of Congress to introduce a bill proposing the land swap, said their attorney, Gideon Kaufman.

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

The Wexners have proposed trading the 520-acre Sutey Ranch north of Carbondale, in Garfield County, to the Bureau of Land Management in exchange for 1,268 acres of BLM land abutting their Two Shoes Ranch, located on the north flank of Mount Sopris, in Pitkin County.

janet@aspentimes.com

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