Railway easement changes hands | AspenTimes.com

Railway easement changes hands

Allyn Harvey

In one fell swoop, the Pitkin County commissioners settled a long-standing concern of our representative in Congress and secured funding for conservation from a skeptical state organization.

The commissioners voted 5-0 yesterday to approve a major amendment to a 4-year-old grant agreement with the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund that helped cover the cost of adding trails and a conservation easement along the railroad right of way between Glenwood and Aspen.

The amendment also transferred control of a conservation easement over the right of way from the Aspen Valley Land Trust, a private nonprofit organization, to the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority, which is run by elected officials from around the valley. U.S. Congressman Scott McGinnis, R-Grand Junction, has been relentless in his opposition to the land trust’s role and called for control of the property to be transferred to a more publicly accountable body.

GOCO, as the trust fund is known around the state, agreed to give the holding authority $2 million to pay for acquisition of a trail and conservation easement along the right of way. It fronted the holding authority $1 million and promised the second million after a comprehensive plan for the trail and conservation program was completed.

The holding authority subsequently borrowed the second million from the governments in Pitkin County and purchased land along the right of way. But once the comprehensive plan was completed, GOCO “determined that 245.5 acres of the 460 acres of land acquired by RFRHA possessed the natural, scenic, open space, historical, educational, wildlife habitat, and other values which GOCO was protecting with the conservation easement,” says a memo drafted by the county attorney’s office.

GOCO revised its offer down to $1.5 million. Yesterday’s emergency resolution by the county agrees to the new terms required by GOCO.

In addition to cutting the amount of money granted to the holding authority, GOCO also assumed some control over the property. The agreement actually eliminates the conservation easement that belonged to the land trust and replaces it with a restrictive covenant. GOCO is responsible for enforcing the covenant, even though the holding authority owns the property.

“The essential difference is the responsibility of the corridor’s preservation has been restored to a public body that’s answerable to the voters,” said Glenwood attorney Bob Noone.

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