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Committee close to evaluating open space

Veronica Whitney
Daily file photoCraig Bair, owner of Bair Ranch in Glenwood Canyon, sits on his ATV on top of Ike Creek in this file photo. Preserving the ranch, which straddles the border of Eagle and Garfield counties, will likely be on the proposals considered by the county's new Open Space Advisory Committee.
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Last week, the 13-member committee, appointed in November by the Eagle County commissioners, approved bylaws that spell out how it will operate. The committee also approved standards it will to use to judge what projects it will review. These policies, however, still require the commissioners’ approval.

On Feb. 9, the committee is expected to approve the criteria it will use to evaluate preservation proposals. County commissioners have asked the committee to have the criteria ready by Feb. 17.

“(The committee’s) attempt now is to get something sound to start,” said Cliff Simonton, a county planner who has been working closely with the committee. “We’ve been in direct contact with 15 counties working on this criteria.



“The selection of the criteria won’t be hard. We worked really hard on it,” Simonton added. “It’s a compilation of the ideas of 14 people.” Simonton, however, said he foresees revisions in the future.

Wildlife habitat, stream and rivers, scenic value, farms and ranch lands, and historic heritage will be among the criteria the committee uses to judge projects.



“The product we’re putting up is good, though not perfect,” said Sandy Donnelly, a committee member who lives in Singletree. “We will probably not get everything right but we hope we can. We’re looking at other communities and what they’ve done. We’re all novices at this in Eagle County.”

Susan Albertson, a committee member from Burns who voted against the open space tax when it was on the ballot in November 2002, said she believes there are a lot of worthwhile projects on tap that will provide more access to rivers and streams.

“Although I voted against the open space tax, I hope I can bring something to the table that otherwise wouldn’t be there,” Albertson said. “I represent the agricultural community. Our agricultural lands already provide huge wildlife habitat. Still, we’re being taxed to pay for open space. I want to see that is handled appropriately.”



Initially, the commissioners asked the committee to have its evaluation criteria ready by March.

“The committee is attempting to move quickly with the criteria because of the Bair Ranch preservation issue,” Simonton said, referring to a somewhat controversial land deal conservationists have been trying to settle.

In December, the commissioners withdrew a $2 million contribution toward preserving Bair Ranch, a 4,300-acre ranch which straddles Eagle and Garfield counties. Conservationists are trying to raise $5 million to place a conservation easement on the ranch that will preserve the land from future development.

The commissioners referred the project to the Open Space Advisory Committee for consideration. Some committee members have said Bair Ranch is priority, but Albertson said she opposes conservation easements.

“I’m against voting for something that lasts in perpetuity; it’s a mistake,” she said.

Gil Marchand, a committee member from Arrowhead, said the discussion right now is whether the committee should come up with a point system to rate projects.

“What we are doing is pretty adequate and then we can fine tune it,” Marchand said. “Eventually, I’d like to see us take Eagle County as a whole and evaluate where open space projects should be. If you don’t look at the big picture we could have too much of the same thing.”

The commissioners, who will have the final vote on how to spend the open space tax, still need to agree on a schedule to consider projects.

“Maybe we should do that a minimum of two times a year with lots of flexibility,” Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone said.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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