No decision on Bair Ranch
More than 150 people attended a public hearing Tuesday where conservationists and Eagle County officials discussed funding to preserve the 4,300-acre Bair Ranch as a working ranch. No decisions were made.
Conservationists are asking the county for $2 million to help with the purchase of a $5 million conservation easement on the Glenwood Canyon sheep ranch, which straddles the border of Eagle and Garfield counties.
The easement would keep the land as open space in perpetuity, barring development and preserving the land’s agricultural use, as well as keeping it on the county tax rolls.
“We have a unique opportunity,” Tom Macy of The Conservation Fund told the county commissioners. “We’re bringing in $1.9 million in grants. If you commit $2 million to the project, we would raise the other million.”
The federal government, through the Bureau of Land
Management, has committed $1.5 million. And the lottery-funded Greater Outdoors Colorado Program, also known as GOCO, has pledged $400,000.
About 60 people signed up to talk at the hearing, almost all of them on behalf of the project.
“This was our number one priority for this fiscal year,” said John Beck of the BLM office in Denver. “This land is important because of its natural resources. It also works well with the thousands of acres of adjacent BLM land. If the ranch is developed someday, that would have a big impact on the BLM land.”
Craig Bair, the owner of Bair Ranch, has extended his deadline for preserving his ranch. But he said Tuesday that he plans to honor an October deadline he has with his brother to buy his part of the ranch. Bair is trying to buy his brother’s 1,200 acres to consolidate his part of the ranch.
“The only way I can do it is by selling some land or putting an easement on it,” he told the commissioners.
County officials are exploring ways to fund the project. One of the ways would be using money from the county’s general fund, a motor pool fund, or delaying some capital improvement projects next year, said Mike Roeper, the county’s finance director.
Avon Town Councilman Ron Wolfe was the only resident who questioned the project at the hearing.
“In spite of the good ideas behind this project, this is a business deal. We need more information,” he said. “After all, the open-space tax barely passed last year.”
Some residents asked the commissioners if they could commit money that will be available next year through the open-space tax passed by voters last year. The tax will bring an estimated $3 million into the county’s coffers in 2004.
“You could do no better than preserve this land,” state Sen. Ken Chlouber, R-Leadville, told the commissioners.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at email@example.com.