West Slope congressmen at odds over forest bill | AspenTimes.com

West Slope congressmen at odds over forest bill

A bill by U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis that would allow the U.S. Forest Service to make sweeping changes in the Roaring Fork Valley – including closure of Carbondale offices – is facing tough scrutiny from another member of Colorado’s congressional delegation.Rep. Mark Udall, whose district includes Eagle and Summit counties, claims that McInnis didn’t get enough public input before introducing a bill that would let the Forest Service seek the changes.McInnis, the Grand Junction Republican whose district includes Aspen and Glenwood Springs, introduced a bill June 24 that would let the Forest Service sell or lease 16 locations in the Roaring Fork and Eagle River valleys. The proceeds from those transactions would be used to build new offices, visitors centers and other administrative facilities.Udall, D-Boulder, says his attempt to slow down the legislative review process for the bill in order to seek comment from affected communities was stifled by McInnis. Where Udall would like to hear from local communities before the bill advances too far, McInnis apparently doesn’t see the need to directly elicit local input.

The Forest Service is considering closing its offices in Carbondale and selling or leasing an acre of land downtown. New offices would be built along with a visitors center in El Jebel, on land owned by the Forest Service. In Aspen, the agency will retain its property at Seventh and Hallam streets but remodel or rebuild. Udall wrote a letter to the town of Basalt, Eagle County, Summit County and four towns in Summit County saying he wants to hear from them before deciding whether to support or fight McInnis’ bill.”With regard to public lands policy, I have learned that the best process is to seek the input of affected communities before introducing legislation,” Udall’s letter said. “As that process has not been followed with this particular legislation, I am now seeking that input so that I can be better informed about your issues and help me formulate my position regarding this bill.”Udall spokesman Lawrence Pacheco said Udall’s staff was briefed by McInnis’ staff about the bill two days before it was introduced. Udall asked McInnis to delay introduction to give the potentially affected communities time to comment, according to Pacheco. The

— see Forest on page A9– continued from page A3request was denied, he said.During his tenure in office, McInnis has made a big issue of demanding local control of federal government policy in his sprawling 3rd Congressional District. His spokesman, Blair Jones, said this bill doesn’t represent a departure from that policy.Jones said “obviously the Udall staff is misinformed” because the White River National Forest staff has also consulted local elected officials about the action proposed in the bill.

In addition, once the bill is passed, there will still be extensive opportunity for public input, Jones insisted. “The Forest Service has said they’re not going to do anything without public input,” he said.Although Carbondale isn’t in Udall’s district, Pacheco said input would be welcomed from any affected jurisdiction.Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig indicated the town would appreciate an outlet for its concerns. Forest Service officials notified the town about its plans for Carbondale and listened to concerns, according to Hassig.”We’ve not held out hope we’d be able to sway them,” he said.

Hassig said the presence of the Forest Service offices helps define the town, so its loss would hurt. On the other hand, the Forest Service site is prime development property, he said.Bill Westbrook, district ranger of the Aspen and Sopris districts, which may be consolidated, said the Forest Service will maintain a presence in Carbondale, even if offices are relocated.He also repeated assurances from forest officials that no administrative sites will be sold or leased without collecting extensive public input.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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