Settlement would keep wilderness land wild |

Settlement would keep wilderness land wild

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado

PITKIN COUNTY A proposed settlement of a federal lawsuit will place some of the last remaining private lands in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness into public hands if a judge approves.T-Lazy-Seven owner Rick Deane and the U.S. Forest Service have negotiated a deal that would give the agency possession of seven mining claims totaling 67.25 acres in some of the most pristine wilderness areas around Aspen.Deane’s lands are along East Maroon Creek Pass, up Conundrum Creek Valley and at the parking lot at Montezuma Basin, which provides access up Castle Peak, one of the state’s peaks above 14,000 feet.”The Deane parcels comprise 65 percent of the remaining privately-owned parcels located in the wilderness area lying within Pitkin County,” said the proposed settlement, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver.Recreational trails in the Conundrum and East Maroon valleys cross land included in the settlement. The public currently doesn’t have any formal easement for their use.The proposed settlement noted it would eliminate the possible need to provide access across wilderness to these lands for Deane or anyone that acquires the property from him. “Properties in this area have been a high-acquisition priority for the United States for many yeas,” the proposal said.In addition to the mining claims in wilderness, Deane would convey two other properties of nearly 20 acres to the government. Those lands, the Diamond and Ophir mining claims, are between Midnight Mine and Richmond Ridge.In return, the feds would carve 2.25 acres out of the two mining claims and convey them back to Deane. The site that Deane would own includes a small, rustic cabin. The site is outside wilderness, along an existing road and developed area, the settlement said.In a statement to The Aspen Times, Deane said the proposed settlement achieves a longtime goal of his.”Over a 30-year period, I accumulated these claims and other claims in order to prevent potential extensive development, more developed road access and so forth in many of these areas,” the statement said. “[I] have accomplished those goals to date and am continuing to do so by this action.”Deane also noted that this proposed settlement has the potential to bring closure to litigation connected to the Mount Sopris Tree Farm.Pitkin County traded 1,307 acres of patented mining claims, mostly in the White River National Forest, to the federal government in 1994 to acquire 217 acres of Forest Service land in El Jebel. Pitkin and Eagle counties used much of the land they acquired for Crown Mountain Park, which will open this spring.After the land swap, individuals and corporations filed 51 lawsuits contesting the county’s ownership of the mining claims used for trade. Deane filed 15 cases that involved ownership of 218 acres. As part of the proposed settlement, he would drop his claim to ownership of those lands.”In sum, under the proposed settlement, Deane would convey over 300 acres to the U.S. Forest Service while retaining a small 2.26-surface-acre parcel and cabin,” the proposal said. “The proposed settlement is in the best interests of the United States, Pitkin County and the public.”Pitkin County isn’t so sure. County Attorney John Ely informed the U.S. Attorney General’s office the county commissioners wouldn’t approve the conveyance of the 2.26 acres to Deane. The reasoning wasn’t specified, and the county hasn’t discussed the case publicly yet.Deane’s attorney, Kathryn Haight, and assistant U.S. attorney Roxanne Perruso asked that the court send the county an official notice of the proposed settlement, then approve the proposal.Haight said the notification of Pitkin County is a “courtesy” rather than a necessity. “My position is we don’t need Pitkin County’s authority,” she said. “They are federal lands, after all.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address

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