Forest Service won’t consider land swap
July 16, 2015
MINTURN — A proposal would not be accepted if one were presented in a Meadow Mountain for Battle Mountain land swap, the Forest Service confirmed this week.
White River National Forest District Ranger Dave Neely said he has informed the Battle Mountain Development Co. that the Forest Service does not think the idea, which was presented to the Minturn Town Council on June 3, is something they would be willing to enter into.
"We thought it was in everyone's best interest to let them know that we did not think a proposal of this complexity and something with a guaranteed high level of controversy was something we'd be willing to enter into," Neely said.
The first tenet of a Forest Service land swap is to recognize a public good that would be gained from the swap.
“But anyone who has lived in Eagle County for a short amount of time understands that there’s significant social value placed on Meadow Mountain, and as such the proposal was guaranteed to be controversial. Dave NeelyWhite River National Forest district ranger
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"This is clearly a serious proposal, and there appear to be some merits to it," Neely said. "But anyone who has lived in Eagle County for a short amount of time understands that there's significant social value placed on Meadow Mountain, and as such the proposal was guaranteed to be controversial. It was also going to be extraordinarily complex. On top of that, we're really stretched right now to meet a lot of basic service and natural resource management obligations that we have, so it really seemed appropriate to let them know as soon as we were ready that we didn't intend to accept an agreement to initiate for this land exchange as we understand it."
RIGHT AT THEIR DOOR
The Forest Service's decision on the matter was welcome news to Lee Rimel, a longtime Eagle County trail user who started an early campaign against the idea.
"I really appreciate Dave Neely and the Forest Service's prompt response in this matter," Rimel said. "It's a twofold relief — the community will not have to divert energy from other projects to fight a proposed land trade, and the Forest Service can continue to focus on the issues that are priorities for all of us."
Neely said the biggest challenge to any Meadow Mountain land swap would be replicating the recreational values provided by that area. With Meadow Mountain having a trailhead parking area at exit 171 on Interstate 70, it's among the most accessible areas in Eagle County for trail users. The Forest Service also has offices at that location, so the recreational value at Meadow Mountain is made apparent to the Forest Service with users right at their door all year long.
"We see a volume of traffic out there on a regular basis," Neely said. "Meadow Mountain provides a pretty high quality, low impact, very easy place for people to hike and ski and snowmobile, and it's one of those great locations where you can go on a backcountry ski tour for an hour without really having to worry about avalanche hazards."
STILL MAY SUBMIT
Tim McGuire with Battle Mountain Development says they may still submit an application if they are able to have more success in their public outreach efforts.
"All the info on why we shouldn't do this assumes there will be a loss of public access to the area," McGuire said. "So we still need to communicate what we're trying to do."
McGuire said they would look for a third-party holder like the Eagle Valley Land Trust to ensure public access to the trails and recreation area on Meadow Mountain would not be affected by the swap, which would put a stop to the incipient development 12 miles south on U.S. Highway 24 at Battle Mountain in favor of pods of housing on Meadow Mountain.
With the controversial element of the idea being one of the major deal-breakers at this time, Battle Mountain's outreach efforts will need to be intensified before they would submit an application, McGuire said.
In any federal land exchange, participation is discretionary, and even if a public good has been determined and both parties agree to enter into a formal process, a long process of public involvement must take place under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Neely said this particular idea sounds "extraordinarily complicated and guaranteed to be controversial" in its current form.
"We just feel like we couldn't take it on," Neely said.