Why the secrecy?
Many months ago, the folks proposing the Two Shoes/Sutey Ranch land trade made a simple request of Pitkin County: “to provide a letter of support for the exchange.” Since that time, the Pitkin County Open Space Board and BOCC have held at least five closed-door executive sessions to discuss the exchange – the latest one will be today.
Why all the secrecy? The BLM land exchange in Pitkin County is under federal ownership, and belongs to all of us – the U.S. taxpayers. Pitkin County has no land-use standing or other legal authority over any of the land involved. Remember, the request is/was simply for “a letter of support.” The Sutey Ranch is in Garfield County and is not under the jurisdiction of Pitkin County.
The BLM land proposed to be exchanged for the Sutey Ranch (which will become BLM land) will be permanently sterilized with a conservation easement to prevent any road construction, any residential construction, any oil/gas/resource extraction and any other development activity. This is a much higher level of preservation/protection than BLM provides. The Sutey Ranch will change from private to public ownership and forever eliminate the possibility of massive residential development on the property. In addition, Sutey Ranch will be subject to thorough BLM planning to analyze wildlife, cultural resources, endangered species, recreational use and other important characteristics and will be designated for non-motorized use. The Sutey Ranch directly adjoins the very popular Red Hill area and will preserve the precious values of the wild North Side. Lastly, Mr. Wexner has agreed to donate $1 million to various Pitkin County historic preservation and conservation efforts to meet Pitkin’s request that “there be more in the exchange for Pitkin.”
Most recently the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society have joined the collaborative effort by Garfield County, Eagle County, the town of Carbondale, Aspen Valley Land Trust, Eagle Valley Land Trust, Red Hill Council, Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, Hanging Valley Ranch, Prince Creek homeowners, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association and a multitude of highly respected, conservation-minded valley residents by strongly recommending that Pitkin County support the exchange.
“Executive sessions” should be used infrequently to ensure that public business is conducted in public. There are limited circumstances which justify executive sessions – personnel matters, pending litigation and contract negotiations. Obviously, this exchange is not a personnel matter. It is not pending litigation. There is no “contract” for Pitkin County to negotiate because they are not a party to the exchange. The land exchange is with the BLM, and not Pitkin County.
The request made to Pitkin was a simple request for a letter of support. Thus, one can only speculate about the reasons that Pitkin County feels compelled to consider this issue so many times in secret. I respectfully urge the county commissioners to lift the domes of silence. Please vote to send a letter of support for the Two Shoes/Sutey Ranch exchange. The immediate and long-term benefits of this exchange to the public are valley-wide and enormous. The broad coalition supporting the exchange demonstrates its merits. Pitkin County commissioners, please do the right thing and support the exchange.
president, Red Hill Council
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