Eagle County ranch deal in danger? | VailDaily.com

Eagle County ranch deal in danger?

Published: Special to the Daily
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EAGLE, Colorado – County commissioners say they’re willing to spend $3 million to help preserve a thousand-acre ranch north of Dotsero – but not the $4.7 million that was being asked of them.

That leaves a big hole in the proposed deal for the conservation easement that would preserve the Colorado River Ranch as a working ranch.

“We need to be clear – this is our monetary offer on the table,” said Commissioner Jon Stavney.

Commissioners doubted the appraisal of $13.2 million, saying the land was worth more like $10 million.

The commissioners asked the Eagle Valley Land Trust to come up with the additional funds. The easement costs $7.9 million and the owner is willing to contribute $1.25 million. Even if the county contributes $3 million, another $3.65 million is needed to make the deal happen.

“I challenge the Land Trust to find more funders,” Stavney said.

Land Trust Executive Director Kara Heide said she was disappointed with the commissioners’ decision.

“Funding opportunities are extremely challenged,” she said.

Heide said she has already gotten encouragement from several funding sources, including Great Outdoors Colorado, Ducks Unlimited and the Colorado Conservation Trust. Nonetheless, the new goal seemed huge, she said.

“That’s an overwhelming number in this economy with our funding resources, as supportive as they are,” Heide said.

The ranch is owned by a group of investors called River Ranch LLC. The group agreed Monday to increase its contribution to $1.25 million, up from $1 million, in the deal. They also agreed to create more public access to the Colorado River.

The commissioners were originally asked for $5.7 million, but the commissioners said they wanted to spend less. On Monday, John Lichtenegger of River Ranch LLC told the commissioners that number was reduced by $1 million.

Lichtenegger declined to comment on the commissioners’ decision after the meeting.

Some members of the public told the commissioners to go ahead and spend the money that was being asked of them. Others told them to hold off, slow down or offer less money.

New New Wallace of Edwards said this was an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.

“It has never, ever, ever, ever been offered to be conserved,” Wallace said. “The cookies are being passed right now. You must take the cookies when they are passed because they may not be passed again.”

Tod Linstroth of Edwards said the property is “gorgeous” but said he had concerns about the speed of the process.

“This process should be careful, deliberate, deliberative, and should have a lot of public input involved,” he said.

Commissioners said they were concerned that the value of the land had dropped recently as the economy has struggled.

“I’m really challenged with the appraisal as it is,” said Commissioner Sara Fisher.

They also emphasized that it wasn’t their job to make sure this group of investors made a profit in the deal.

“It’s nothing personal, but this is business, and we are here to negotiate the best deal for Eagle County,” Runyon said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.