A conservation collision course | VailDaily.com

A conservation collision course

Matt Zalaznick

Who do you want conserving your land? Well, here in the valley for the last couple of decades it’s been a nonprofit group called the Eagle Valley Land Trust. Among other successes, the group has engineered a land swap that expanded Sylvan Lake State Park and preserved a key chunk of land along Glenwood Canyon called Bair Ranch. But the group may soon have competition. Perhaps envious of the land trust’s success and popularity – the group even convinced a solid majority of voters to raise their own taxes to buy up open space – a couple of county commissioners are ready to jump into the conservation game. Commissioner Tom Stone, with Commissioner Michael Gallager’s support, has proposed forming a government land trust, un-creatively called the Eagle County Land Trust, to buy open space and, most likely, grab a huge chunk of the open space tax revenue out from under the Eagle Valley Land Trust and its committed executive director, Cindy Cohagen. But can Stone, who also worked on the Sylvan Lake expansion deal, out-conserve Cohagen – especially with Gallagher leaving the board in a few weeks? Stone will certainly battle Cohagen for tax dollars if incoming Commissioner Peter Runyon and Stone’s frequent nemesis, Commissioner Arn Menconi, don’t kill the county land trust. What a government land trust will certainly achieve is a fight every time there’s some land around to be purchased and preserved. And isn’t Tom, one of the valley’s most high-profile Republicans, supposed to be for small government? Well, maybe with Eagle County turned blue he feels there’s a mandate for more intrusive administrating. Why not a bit of low-grade socialism now that local voters are more Mondale than Reagan? Perhaps the commissioners shouldn’t stop at conservation in duplicating work already being done in the private sector. Perhaps Commissioner Arn Menconi, a founder of the Snowboard Outreach Society, should be worried. Maybe the county wants to form the Eagle County Snowboard Outreach Trust Society because it feels it can do a better job helping at-risk students get their lives on track. Never mind that SOS is a little catchier than ECSOTS. – the latter of which sounds like a SARS spin-off – there are too many donations to be poached from the very popular Avon-based nonprofit. The commissioners could push a snowboard outreach tax to gobble up those contributions. Come to think of it, what has the supposedly hard-working Eagle River Watershed Council achieved in cleaning up the county’s chief waterway? In fact, recent reports indicate the river and the fish therein are not quite as healthy as some had thought. Time has clearly come for the commissioners to form the Eagle County Eagle River Watershed Trust, and the allied Eagle County Black Gore Creek Steering Trust.The commissioners can spend more tax dollars to run the annual highway and river cleanups, and maybe even – by wielding the majesty of their office – convince the state Department of Transportation to try a lot harder to keep all the nasty highway chemicals from spilling into the creek on Vail Pass. And clearly the local press isn’t always kind enough to the commissioners. We may have endorsed Tom and Arn in the past, but we can be fickle. So why not the county government’s own newspaper with the commissioners ruling the editorial board, with all “good” news about ribbon cuttings, the latest award won for excelling in bureaucracy, and promises to work collaboratively with the towns? Imagine all that potential ad revenue! It could pay for a rec center in Edwards and an airport radar. Clearly, county government isn’t doing enough. The private sector is doing too much, stealing the contributions that should be – via new taxes and special districts – pouring into the county’s precious financial reserves. City Editor Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or mzalaznick@vaildaily.com

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