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About that Forest Service bill

Michael Gallagher

Dear Minturn Town Council and citizens: After reading the article in the Daily and talking to different folks in town, I believe that it is necessary to write about some of Minturn’s objections to the Forest Service bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis. First let me congratulate the Town Council and thank you for looking out for the impact any of this might have on the town. That is doing the job we elected you to do.Now let’s look at the objections.The first objection is the seeming lack of public input. “It doesnít allow us to say anything on this” is the quote in the article. The facts show us that there are already several federal laws that require the USFS to solicit public input and consider it in their decisions. We have all seen the invitations to public hearings and invitations to comment on everything from Nova Guide’s application for building a lodge at Pando, to the recent land swap which did not happen at Avon. The proposed bill doesn’t have provisions for public input because those laws already exist. Minturn and other local governments, along with all the citizens in the affected areas, already do have and will continue to have opportunity for public input.The second objection centers on the status of the land after a sale or trade is made (IF it is sold or transferred). We read in the article: “The bill is short on specifics, particularly once the sales take place, if any of these possible developers will be subject to local zoning laws.” The facts show us that the only reason that the USFS land is not now subject to the local land use regulations is because of the federal law supremacy provision in the U.S. Constitution (Art. VI, Sec. (2)). Every attorney that I’ve talked to has confirmed that there is no way for the federal government to transfer that privilege to any new private owner. There is no “used-to-be-federal-land” supremacy provision on the books anywhere. Simply put, it is unmistakable that parcels which pass to private ownership will fall under the local land use regulations. And I assure you that Eagle County will continue to consult adjacent municipalities in any consideration of land use proposals in our jurisdiction.The third objection has to do with any money realized from the sale or transfer of land (IF it is sold or transferred). In the article, it says: “The bill doesn’t establish any oversight for how funds raised from the sales of forest land properties will be spent.” And further: “The public will not know how much the land sold for or how much was paid to real estate brokers and consultants involved in the sale.”Facts show us that the proposed bill has made provisions for all of that money (IF any land is sold or transferred) to stay in this national forest and to be spent on upgrading and perhaps relocation of facilities for improved management and administration. But we must remember that the same public input requirements apply to any consolidation or relocation of facilities. We are not without a voice. Facts also show that how much the lands sold for and other information on any financial arrangements are a matter of public record, just as they are for the town of Minturn. All of that information is available to you and to any citizen that asks for it. We have to recognize that while we cannot control what the federal government does, any more than you would want some lesser entity to control what the town of Minturn does, we can strongly influence what it does through our legislators and through the public input process.Again, I thank you for your vigilance on behalf of the folks in town. I surely understand how the newer members of the council might not be aware of all the provisions already in place. I hope that you will reconsider if it is in our best interest to seek to improve the bill as it goes through the legislative process, or to only oppose the bill. I encourage you to contact McInnis’ office and establish communications to address your concerns and suggestions. The people in his office are easy to work with and have local interests at heart. I offer my time and my effort in whatever service I might be to the town in this matter.Michael Gallagher of Minturn is an Eagle County commissioer. Here, he writes as a citizen.Vail, Colorado


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