Dozens react to latest proposed Berlaimont plan changes | VailDaily.com

Dozens react to latest proposed Berlaimont plan changes

USFS Holy Cross District Ranger Aaron Mayville outlines the proposed snowmobile access changes for the Berlaimont Enviromental Impact Statement during an open house presention Wednesday in Minturn. Dozens of local residents attended the session.

MINTURN — As he addressed the dozens of people who came out for an open house to discuss proposed multiuse trail and snowmobile access mitigations for the Berlaimont Estates project, District Ranger Aaron Mayville noted the meeting was obviously a popular opportunity.

But a voice from the back of the packed room elaborated — "Unpopular, you mean."

Wildlife advocates, recreationalists and nearby residents have opposed the Berlaimont proposal as the U.S. Forest Service moves forward with its Environmental Impact Statement process related to a paved access road to the development. Those concerns were also voiced Wednesday, Aug. 15, at an open house held at the Holy Cross Ranger District office.

Berlaimont Estates is a 680-acre parcel of private property surrounded by U.S. Forest Service lands, located north of Edwards and west of the Berry Creek drainage. Owners Petr Lukes and Jana Sobotova have proposed 19 units and nine accessory units on 35-acre or larger parcels in the area. The proposed development is classified as a use by right under Colorado law. Residential lots that equal or exceed 35 acres in size are exempt from subdivision regulation, and no public hearings about the land-use part of the proposal were required.

The only public process required for the development is the Environmental Impact Statement. Because Berlaimont is an in-holding — private land surrounded by public land — the developers must build the access road, to Eagle County standards, through Forest Service land. The final Environmental Impact Statement is slated for release in 2018 and according to Mayville, the comment period for the Berlaimont proposal earlier this year generated more than 650 responses.

"We recognize this project has generated a lot of interest in the community," Mayville said. "We understand this is a difficult project for folks. That has been made abundantly clear."

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He noted that issues raised during the public comment period were largely related to two topics — wildlife and recreation impacts. Those concerns prompted the Forest Service to propose two mitigations — one would add 0.9 miles of multiuse trail west of Berry Creek to create a 4.5 mile loop system for pedestrian and mountain bike use. The other would move a snowmobile access and associated parking area from a location off Berry Creek Road north of Interstate 70 in favor of a new access point off a June Creek Road spur in the Wildridge neighborhood.

Mayville stressed that the purpose of this week's open house was to vet the two changes, not to debate the merits of the overall Berlaimont plan.

"We don't normally have informational meetings at this stage of the game," Mayville said. But because of the heightened interest in the proposal, along with the desire to have a transparent process, Mayville said the Forest Service opted to present the new proposals to the public.

"If these don't make sense, if people just hate either of these options, we can drop them," said Mayville.

Wildlife issues

The Forest Service claims the snowmobile access change would reduce wildlife impacts because it reduces the distances riders will travel to access the June Creek trail. Bill Andree, a retired wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, disputed that claim.

He noted that even if the Berry Creek access was closed to motorized vehicles, it would still be open to non-motorized uses.

"Wildlife studies show that non-motorized uses in the winter have a bigger impact than motorized users," Andree said.

That impact is particularly worrisome, Andree noted, because this area north of Interstate 70 is critical wildlife habitat.

"You haven't mitigated the impact, you have fragmented it and then you are proposing more trails on it, too," Andree said.

Regarding the trail proposal, Andree noted the wildlife impact area for a trail extends 500 yards beyond the trail itself.

"Why are they proposing new trails through critical winter range?" Andree said.

Wildridge resident Howard Leavitt echoed the wildlife concerns. "The wildlife numbers haven't declined in Eagle County, they have plummeted," Leavitt said.

The snowmobile access change was also a concern for Leavitt.

"Why would they move it there, to a residential neighborhood?" he said. "We don't need the influx of trucks and trailers up there."

After listening to the proposal, Singletree resident Steve Turner noted that changing the snowmobile access could actually cut back on noise for the Wildridge neighborhood because snowmobiles won't have to travel up a draw to get to the June Creek trail. But like many people in the room, Turner noted his concerns with the Berlaimont proposal extend beyond the mitigation proposals up for discussion. He cited the road maintenance, project viability and neighborhood issues as examples.

"I am not anti-development but you have to do development that makes sense. When the benefit is for a few and the impact is for many, you have to really think about it," Turner said.

Written Comment

As he presented the snowmobile access and multiuse trail alternatives Wednesday, Mayville urged the people present at the meeting, as well as anyone else who is interested in the proposals, to offer written comment.

"This is new information and we don't want to surprise anyone about what we are thinking," he said.

The White River National Forest will continue to work on its final Berlaimont Environmental Impact Statement, which is expected to be released sometime later this year.

Additional information can be obtained from Matt Klein, realty specialist for the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District, by emailing matthewklein@fs.fed.us or calling 970-827-5182.