"Edwards Overlook’ to get a tough look-over | VailDaily.com

"Edwards Overlook’ to get a tough look-over

Cliff Thompson

The Forest Service has decided a full-blown environmental impact statement, or EIS, will be required for the project. Plans indicate the road would be built on popular mountain-biking and hiking trails near Singletree that happen to be in critical winter habitat for elk and deer. That study could cost the owners of the land, High Places Developers II, $100,000 or more and will take 18 or more months to complete.

“It was pretty clear people didn’t like the idea,” said Howard Kahlow, real estate specialist with the Forest Service. “They pointed out more complexities than we were aware of.”

“I think (an EIS is) entirely appropriate,” added Vail’s Andy Wiessner, a former federal lands specialist. “I’ve been up on that parcel, and it is so deep inside the forest this would have a major impact on the forest and on wildlife. The most appropriate thing of all is if the landowners would get real and try and exchange their land for some land that’s closer to civilization and is appropriate for development.”

The proposed road would access a gated community of 19 luxury homesites on an uneven, horseshoe-shaped, 680-acre parcel of private land two miles north of Singletree. The parcel is surrounded by land owned by the Forest Service.

The U.S. Congress ruled in 1981 that federal land agencies must provide land-locked parcels with “reasonable access.”

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In this case the developer would pay for the road, as well as for the EIS. They would include analyses of any archeological resources, biological evaluations and an engineering analysis of soil stability, as well as analysis of any visual impacts.

The last time a full environmental study was done for a proposal on public land in the Eagle River Valley was when Vail’s controversial Category III expansion, now Blue Sky Basin, was proposed.

An expanded analysis of the impacts of this proposed road became evident during the initial environmental analysis of the project, Kahlow said.

At a public meeting last month, more than three dozen people expressed their opposition to the project. He said the Forest service also received more than 60 written comments opposing it.

“It’s bad,” said Jonathan Staufer of Colorado Wild! “We’re concerned about the loss of habitat for deer and elk.”

Indeed, the area in question is part of the migration corridor used by a 6,000 head of mule deer – the state’s second-largest deer herd – on their spring and fall treks to and from the High Country.

Other comments centered on the loss of popular mountain-biking and hiking trails that criss-cross the area, as well as the increase in traffic that could result from an improved road. The area is served by the Berry Creek Road, which is unpaved.

Another consideration is the presence of a native plant, the endangered Harrington’s Penstemon, which could be relocated if it stands in the way of a road.

One issue that is locked in litigation, swirls around a State Land Board parcel owned by former Beaver Creek resident Robert Brotman. If a road is built to the Edwards Overlook, it could also be used to access the Brotman parcel, opponents said, literally paving the way for more development on the valley’s rim. Brotman has said he will trade the parcel for other land.

High Places Developers II is owned by Bill Grebe and Alan Westfall, have hired an environmental consultant to generate the required analyses.

Neither Westfall and Grebe could be reached for comment.

Kahlow, meanwhile, said it became evident during the less intensive environmental assessment that the project would require greater analysis because of its potential impacts.

Once the expanded environmental analyses are completed, the Forest Service would then decide what sort of access to the parcel is “reasonable.”

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