Wexner, Pitkin County to discuss land swap
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Pitkin County has yet to modify its latest proposal for the Wexner-Sutey Ranch land swap, but expects to do so before county commissioners have their first face-to-face meeting with Abigail Wexner.
Leslie and Abigail Wexner have proposed the controversial land swap; Abigail intends to meet with commissioners on April 20, according to the couple’s representatives. She also attended a March discussion of the land trade hosted by Carbondale town trustees, but the Wexners have not taken part personally in the county’s deliberations.
Commissioners will discuss how the county might modify its proposal when they meet behind closed doors on Tuesday, according to Commissioner George Newman, chairman of the board.
“I’m anticipating we’ll see a revised compromise proposal … at Tuesday’s meeting,” he said.
The Wexners, meanwhile, have said they’ll withdraw their request for county support of the land trade if the two sides can’t agree. The swap has been under discussion for more than a year.
Commissioners have scheduled a special meeting on April 20, allowing them to convene formally and take action, but Newman said he doesn’t anticipate a decision. The special meeting allows the board to convene an executive session to discuss the swap out of the public eye if it so chooses.
“That’s really the purpose for that special meeting,” Newman said. “I would be surprised if there was a definite yes or no at that next meeting, but you never know.”
The Wexners have proposed exchanging 1,268 acres of Bureau of Land Management property on the north flank of Mount Sopris, south of Carbondale, for the 520-acre Sutey Ranch to the north of the town. The BLM property would be folded into the Wexners’ Two Shoes Ranch; the Sutey Ranch, valued for wildlife and recreational attributes, would become BLM land. All of the acreage at both sites would be protected from development.
In the past year, the Wexners have sweetened the deal twice in an effort to win Pitkin County support. The county, meanwhile, unveiled its own proposal (which the Wexners rejected) and then modified it. Further modification is now contemplated.
The Wexners’ representatives have said they intend to seek congressional approval of the land exchange. Though Pitkin County has no decision-making power in the matter, its support was thought to be important to securing approval at the federal level.
In a separate discussion on April 20, commissioners will meet with BLM representatives. Land exchanges in general will be on the table – commissioners want to know how the agency identifies lands for disposal. The land the Wexners want to acquire was not on the BLM disposal list, but that doesn’t preclude its consideration in a land trade.
Dale Will, director of the county’s Open Space and Trails program, suggested commissioners also ask BLM representatives how they would administer a $1 million endowment offered by the Wexners to handle wildlife enforcement and management of the Sutey Ranch if the property comes into the BLM’s hands.
“It seems to me, that’s a big question that nobody has answered,” Will said.
The DOW has said it wants Sutey Ranch closed to recreation in the wintertime, if it becomes public land, to protect wintering big game.
Commissioners also want to talk about the potential for recreational closures on other lands the DOW has identified as important winter range, particularly for elk.
In a recent meeting with commissioners, DOW District Wildlife Manager Kevin Wright suggested Light Hill and the Crown, both located in the midvalley, should both be closed to winter recreation. Both areas are managed by the BLM.
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