Forest Service launches classification of Berlaimont comment
MINTURN — The deadline has now passed for written comment regarding the Berlaimont Estates Road Access Project and the U.S. Forest Service received a proverbial earful.
“We got around 500 comments. We have to wait a few more days to see if we get any more postmarked from before the deadline,” said Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Aaron Mayville. “That’s a lot of comment, more than most.”
The Berlaimont Estates project involves 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 land use 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. Because the developers have the right to proceed with the plan they have presented, no public hearings about the land use part of the proposal were required.
But the location of the property does require an access road public process. Because Berlaimont is an in-holding, the developers must build an access road through U.S. Forest Service land. That road proposal resulted in the presentation of three route options for a two-lane, paved drive from the valley floor through the Berlaimont property. The road development requires an environmental impact statement from the Forest Service, as well as a formal determination regarding whether the proposed 19-unit residential area is a “reasonable” use.
In its draft environmental impact statement, the Forest Service made the determination that the Berlaimont plan is reasonable. But through the written comment process, project opponents are disputing that finding and arguing against the road construction.
The deadline for written comment regarding the Berlaimont plan was March 12. According to Mayville, the next process step is for the Forest Service to conduct a comment analysis and classify the submissions based on content.
When the classification is completed, the comments will be delivered to the Forest Service team charged with studying the Berlaimont plan to determine if the draft Environmental Impact Statement should be amended.
Mayville anticipates that the content analysis will take several weeks to complete.
“The ultimate goal here is to have a final EIS and draft final decision in the fall,” he said.
What happens then? Another round of public comment.
After the draft final decision is released for public comment, the Forest Service will launch an objection period. Anyone who submitted comment prior to the March 12 deadline will have standing to object to the proposal, Mayville said.
From there the Forest Service will begin an objection resolution process. During that process, the Forest Service may make plan changes to address objections.
These processes take time, Mayville noted. For example the law requires a 45-day objection period for the final decision. He said the it will be late 2018 to early 2019, at the soonest, before the official Forest Service Berlaimont road decision is issued.
“We are doing our due diligence to follow the process and the law with this,” Mayville said. “We trying to be very purposeful to be transparent with the public.”
While Mayville said he couldn’t yet characterize the overall tenor of public comment regarding the Berlaimont road issue, he did note many people offered strong objections to the plan.
Eagle County was one of the entities who provided written comment to the plan. The county noted it was previously unable to analyze the impacts of the Berlaimont plan in detail because of the 35-acre parcel land use.
In 2014, the county conditionally approved a request from Berlaimont for a variance from its standards pertaining to dual access emergency vehicle turnaround areas and certain road improvement standards. Because the standard for approval was technical in nature, the county said he did not have the opportunity to consider the social and environmental impact of a permanent access road toe the property.
“The road variance approved by Eagle County should not be interpreted as approval for this type of land use,” states the county’s Berlaimont comment. “The variance simply dictates the standards that a road would need to meet if the proponents of Berlaimont were to develop the parcels as proposed.”
Additionally, the county outlined a number of issues for Forest Service consideration including:
Impacts to recreational experiences for hikers, bikers and others.
Impacts on local wildlife populations and habitat. The county noted that Forest Service lands surrounding the property are identified as deer and elk winter range and an important migration route for deer where roads have been closed seasonally due to wildlife.
Impacts on natural resources and the possible impact on the water quality of nearby creeks and streams through runoff and sedimentation.
Impacts to nearby residential properties from noise, dust, traffic and scenic disturbances.