Open space or a sewer plant?
MINTURN – Ten acres of U.S. Forest Service land at Dowd Junction has become ground zero in a political dustup that is spreading from Minturn to Washington D.C.The Forest Service wants to sell the land and an additional 100 acres across the 2.27 million-acre surrounding national forest, in part, to help build new offices in several locations. Selling federal land takes an act of Congress, and all sides are sending letters to Colorado’s congressional representatives over what they believe should happen to the land in the White River National Forest.Minturn’s leaders want the land sold and developed, in part, so the town can build a badly needed sewer plant there.Representatives of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, a conservation group, don’t want Minturn to put a municipal sewer plant or other commercial buildings on the site, and are urging it be kept as open space. Eagle County’s commissioners also want it to remain open space.All three are writing letters to U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, Eagle County’s Congressman, who is creating the Administrative Sites Conveyance Authority bill to allow the Forest Service to sell the land. What will be included in the bill will be heavily influenced by local input that, so far, is divided. The acreage is next to I-70 and could be valuable to a developer.
“For us, it’s a simple issue of 10 acres of public land,” said Cindy Cohagen of the Land Trust. “We want to keep it that way.”The Land Trust said the area is a buffer between Eagle-Vail and Minturn and also provides a makes room for wildlife, particularly elk on the hillside across the river.The Land Trust has asked Udall to exclude the parcel from the new bill because it also provides a year-round recreation area for residents.”The Eagle Valley Land Trust believes that this parcel should be kept in open space and should continue to be managed by the Forest Service for outdoor recreation, open space and wildlife purposes,” Cohagen wrote to Udall.Land Trust board member Andy Wiessner said he feels it’s “terribly inappropriate” for the town to place a sewer plant at the site because it’s just upstream of Dowd Chutes, a popular whitewater rafting and kayak run.While the stance of the Land Trust prompted criticism from Minturn town council members, the county’s stance angered them.Minturn mayor Hawkeye Flaherty was succinct in his assessment of what action the county should take. “I think the county should butt out,” he said. “I don’t understand what the county is doing.”The tricky part
The land abuts both county and town land and lawmakers depend on the government with the most jurisdiction over it to determine what to put in the legislation, said Minturn town attorney Allen Christiansen.Minturn and Eagle County have been sparring over how to regulate a proposed 5,300-acre ski-and-golf community on Battle Mountain whose developer has requested annexation to town. The two boards had a fractious meeting more than a month ago in Minturn where they clashed over who would control development at Battle Mountain.E-mails from Commissioner Arn Menconi to the county staff, obtained by the Daily under the state’s Open Records law, indicated the county wanted to exercise control over the development by partnering with Minturn.Town board members like Jerry Bumgarner think the county is using the Dowd Junction land to pressure the town on regulating the Battle Mountain development.”People are pretty vindictive,” he said. “Not any particular one – but when I see (Menconi) then I’ll tell him.”Flaherty suggested Minturn send a lobbyist to Washington, D.C. to press the town’s case. And former county commissioner and town council member, Mike Gallagher, who has traveled to lobby lawmakers in Washington, concurred with that suggestion.”Doing a tap dance on their desk works a whole lot better than letters,” he said.Why sell?
The 10 acres is a fraction of the 16 parcels totaling 110 acres across the 2.3 million-acre White River National Forest the Forest Service wants to sell. The Forest Service wants to sell 45 acres in and around Minturn, with the largest parcel, 14 acres, located behind Nova Guides, just a stone’s throw from the new development proposed for Battle Mountain.Much of the land the Forest Service wants to sell has old offices or other buildings that the agency no longer needs. Some of those buildings were located in communities that were a day away by horseback from one another, said Cal Wettstein, district ranger.Other parcels the Forest Service wants to sell are located in Pitkin, Garflield and Rio Blanco counties.Modern technology is allowing the Forest Service to have fewer offices, he said, because communications systems make it easier to communicate and function from other locations.Representatives of Udall said the land-sale legislation remains in the formative stage. It won’t be made final until Minturn – and other communities as far away as Aspen and Meeker – decide what needs to be done with the land. The proposal is now in its second year.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or firstname.lastname@example.orgVail, Colorado