Eaton Ranch’s false choice |

Eaton Ranch’s false choice

Don Rogers

The more we think about it, the less we like the idea of Eagle County’s government emptying its dedicated open space coffers and then taking $2.2 million more from its general fund to in essence buy a gravel pit in downtown Edwards. That adds up to a $6 million commitment to preserve open space that would already be preserved on that land where it counts – along the Eagle River – without the county emptying its purse.That adds up to the county violating its own master plan for retail and residential development in downtown Edwards, as well as the local plan for future land use there. That adds up to putting development pressure elsewhere that’s more appropriate for open space and perhaps even harming the county’s chances of saving land that the commissioners may not realize today will become available for preservation.That adds up to, well, a drive for private donations that might be better spent in areas where development has not yet encroached. That adds up to Edwards, a population center that cannot muster the will to incorporate (and why should they with the commissioners playing reliable sugar daddies?), contributing very little if anything to the purchase. That adds up to other county needs that go unmet to the tune of, oh, $2.2 million when the county already has a dedicated open space fund that grows by $3 million a year. Might the money go further with employee staffing and benefits, fairgrounds improvements, social service uses, recreational and other projects in other parts of the county, along with that the long list of requests for general fund dollars that go penniless every year?That adds up to a just about evenly divided Open Space Advisory Committee on the wisdom of this deal, along with no small amount of head-shaking among even some of the most devoted open space advocates.Simply put, we think Commissioners Arn Menconi and Peter Runyon have made a mistake committing this amount of dollars into saving what didn’t need saving this way.We think the Vail Valley Foundation deserves praise for buying an option and offering an alternative for Bruce Eaton’s 72 acres that largely make up the gravel pit and should not be confused with those lovely wetlands and flood plain just to the west. This alternative is worthy of discussion, even if there are flaws in the plan.But we also think that the foundation has overstepped in helping steer what should be an intellectual debate into an emotion-laden campaign that implies that this deal is an all-or-nothing arrangement when it comes to open space. That’s simply not true. And neither is it true – nor fair – to paint opponents as simply against open space because they object to this questionable use of county money. The Vail Daily, for example wholeheartedly supported the county spending $2 million to help protect nearly 5,000 acres of the Bair Ranch at the mouth of Glenwood Canyon from future development. To us, that deal made sense, controversial as it was.We don’t believe this one quite stands up to intellectual scrutiny. Logic does not support spending two year’s worth of open space funds on a gravel pit designated for development in a commercial center of Eagle County.We can accept arguments – based on reason rather than frankly false rhetoric – that spending this much now to save part of downtown Edwards makes more sense than saving to preserve less trammeled land a little later. So let’s have that argument, and deal squarely with the Eaton parcel and not the wetlands to the west of it. Which by the way are already protected, although the flood plain there might be slightly more threatened by development, thanks to the commissioners’ best intentions. Vail, Colorado

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