At their Tuesday meeting, Eagle County Commissioners voted unanimously to appropriate $1.4 million from the county's open space fund to buy the Woodruff property at State Bridge.
The commissioners said the land is a crucial piece in the county's plan to improve public access to the Colorado River north of Dotsero. That stretch is relatively isolated from the public by private land and the county is considering several purchases along it.
Commissioner Jon Stavney described the Woodruff property as a "linchpin" of the plan.
Eagle County Open Space Director Toby Sprunk read a statement from the Colorado River Center that articulated an argument for buying the land: "This is a key in-point for the boating community and it would be short-sighted not to buy it, as private interests are buying up river land. ... The county would have had to pay more for it years ago, when property was more expensive."
Two members from the open space advisory board, Joe LeBeau and Tom Edwards, expressed distaste for buying the land at a higher price than its appraisal of about $1.2 million.
Commissioner Stavney said the purchase is so important for future access that it outweighs the higher cost.
"This parcel is unique," he said. "When I'm awake at night, I see this as being the king-pin of access - think of the river as a water trail: not all access points are equal."
Adding to the appeal is that the Woodruff property already has a boat ramp, which the owner charges people to use. Commissioner Sara Fisher said the amenities that are already in place help justify the higher premium.
"This property is one we can walk onto tomorrow and put it to use right away in a healthy way," she said.
OSAC member Joe LeBeau countered by saying if Fisher was using her own checkbook for the purchase, she would work harder at negotiating a lower price. He observed the tough economic times and job losses that are occurring and questioned if the money in question might be better saved.
"You can't say we're laying off people and spending the money on this, that's not fair," said Commissioner Peter Runyon. "(The money) comes from a different fund," he said, referring to the open space fund approved by voters in 2002. "We don't know what could happen in the future - we could lose this central parcel forever. The whole string of Christmas balls will go down if we don't have this central element."
As the county buys river access points, the goal is to encourage more use below State Bridge. The Bureau of Land Management recorded at least 65,690 people who used the stretch of the river above State Bridge in 2010. The hope is that with more access below State Bridge, some of that heavy use will be spread out and even encourage more visitors in the southern part of the county.
Stavney reminded the OSAC members that the BLM has expressed interest in buying the Woodruff property from Eagle County as funds become available. The BLM currently does not have the money to buy the land. If that happens, the county would recoup some costs.
"It sounds like you've already made up your minds," LeBeau said before the commissioners voted. "I just hope you keep these points in mind when considering other purchases in the future."