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Bair Ranch preservation deal threatened

Veronica Whitney

Eagle County Commissioner Michael Gallagher said Thursday if any of the information he received on the Bair Ranch deal changes, he will reconsider his approval of a $2 million contribution from the county to protect part of the ranch as open space.Gallagher said his vote to approve the contribution to purchase a $5 million “conservation easement” on 4,300 acres of the ranch was based on information he and the other county commissioners received at a July 29 hearing.”We haven’t given anybody the money yet,” Gallagher said. “My vote to approve was based on the information we received. If that changes, we will need to give it another look.”A Sept. 10 letter from Isom & Associates, an architecture and land planning firm in Eagle, to the Colorado Department of Transportation in Grand Junction, shows that Craig Bair, owner of the ranch, might be considering other options for his Glenwood Canyon ranch.Those “options,” however, aren’t included in the conservation easement, which means the easement wouldn’t go through.”The Bairs are looking at some options for the property,” said Steve Isom, of Isom & Associates. “We’re looking at feasible water and access.”In the letter, which was copied to Craig Bair and RV Resorts LLC, Isom asks the department of transportation to discuss the possibility of access to the Bair Ranch for an RV park and corporate retreat.Easement exclusion”The easement doesn’t involve an RV park or corporate retreat,” saidTom Macy, of The Conservation Fund, which drafted the easement. “An RV park is one of the options the Bairs are considering. They have been approached by somebody about this. But any rumors regarding an RV development have nothing to do with our easement.”Bob Wilson, spokesman for the department of transportation, said there has been a request to discuss changes to the Bair Ranch exit.”At this point I don’t know what types of changes they’re looking at and for what,” Wilson said. “They’re just beginning dialogue in regards to access. The Bair Ranch exit and rest area are federal. Whenever there’sdiscussion of possible changes to access, we’d need to contact them.”Craig Bair didn’t return calls for this story.No RVs”I would never approve the money if the easement comes with an RV park,” Gallagher said. “The fact that (Bair) is looking at other options makes me wonder how serious his pursuit is of open space.”Gallagher’s July vote, along with Commissioner Arn Menconi’s, was crucial to the approval. County commissioner Tom Stone vehemently opposed the contribution, citing difficult economic times and a lack of benefits for the residents of Eagle County.Cindy Cohagen of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, which is attempting to raise more than $1 million for the easement locally, said that she isn’t aware of the Bairs considering an RV park or other options.”We haven’t closed the deal yet. This is (Bair’s) property and he can do whatever he wants,” Cohagen said. “Our commitment to him and the community, however, is unchanged.”Cohagen said there are plans to close the deal in December, but that’s contingent on fund raising.Bair has seen the deal pushed from an Oct. 1 deadline to December, Cohagen said. Bair has said he will use the money to consolidate his ranch by buying his brother’s parcel, which sits in the middle of his portion of the ranch.The easement will keep the land as open space in perpetuity, barring further development and preserving the land’s agricultural use, as well as keeping it on the county tax rolls.The federal government, through the Bureau of Land Management, already has committed $1.5 million to the project and the lottery-funded Greater Outdoors Colorado Program, also known as GOCO, has pledged $400,000.”The county’s interest is if it’s suitable for open space,” Gallagher said.Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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