Towns rally behindBair Ranch preservation
As the Eagle County Commissioners get ready to vote on whether the county will help keep lands on the Bair Ranch empty, several valley towns have taken a stand in support of the contribution.On Tuesday, the county commissioners are expected to vote on a $2 million contribution to a deal that would block development on 4,800 acres of the ranch, which is at the mouth of Glenwood Canyon. The money would come from an open space tax narrowly passed by voters in 2002.In the past weeks, town councils in Vail, Gypsum, Minturn and Basalt have sent letters to the commissioners in support of the contribution.”The Bair Ranch project appears to be an excellent collaborative effort by many different interests and an example of how the county’s open space program should work through a dedicated and involved citizens advisory committee,” says the Vail Town Council’s letter.The Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee was formed to suggest what lands the commissioners should spend the open space taxes preserving. In April, the committee voted 9-1 in favor of spending $2 million of the taxes at Bair Ranch to help purchase what’s called conservation easement, a legal tool that blocks development on open lands. The deal will cost more than $5 million, with additional money coming from the federal government, the state and conservation groups. “Our letter emphasizes that we support the process of the Open Space Advisory Committee,” said Jeff Shroll, Gypsum’s town manager.
The Basalt Town Council’s letter also says it supports the vote of Steve Ellsperman, its representative on the open space board. Proponents of the deal say it will preserve critical wildlife habitat in forests and along the river, preserve a working ranch, protect mountain views and prevent sprawl.Opponents say the money in the open space program would be better spent elsewhere, on land with more public access. Included in the deal are 512 acres of the ranch along the Eagle River that would be open to the public, but the rest of the land will be inaccessible. The towns of Avon, Eagle and Red Cliff haven’t taken a stand on the contribution. “We have chosen to speak through our designated delegate, Ron Wolfe,” said Avon Town Manager Larry Brooks. “That’s the appropriate representation.” Wolfe is both an Avon town councilman and the chairman of the open space committee.Buz Reynolds, Jr., Avon mayor and a candidate for Arn Menconi’s county commissioner seat, said he personally supports preserving open space along Interstate 70.”This is the deal with open space,” Reynolds said. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone. It can never be open space again… More or less I’m a proponent for it, but I have to see the benefits to Eagle County.”In addition to the town councils’ letters, the county commissioners have received in the past weeks more than 70 e-mails and letters from county residents, said Sharee Wettstein, an administrative coordinator for Eagle County.
“The e-mails have been overwhelmingly in support,” Wettstein said.Although the open space board voted to support the Bair Ranch deal, the county commissioners have been deadlocked 1-1. Commissioner Arn Menconi supports the deal while Tom Stone has been steadfast in his opposition. Commissioner Michael Gallagher will likely break the tie.Last summer, Gallagher and Menconi vote to spend $2 million of the county’s general fund on Bair Ranch. But because there wasn’t a contract by the end of the year with Craig and LeGrande Bair, owners of the ranch, the county passed the project on to the Open Space Advisory Committee, which started reviewing projects in February.If approved, the county’s contribution would be added to state and federal grants, as well as money raised locally.The federal Bureau of Land Management has pledged $1.5 million; Great Outdoors Colorado, a state-funded conservation agency, $1 million; Garfield County, $25,000; and the Eagle Valley Land Trust, a local conservation agency, is committed to raising $1.3 million.Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at email@example.com.
==========================================Taking a standThe following Town Councils have sent letters to the Eagle County Board of County Commissioners in support of its making a $2 million contribution from to prevent future development on the Bair Ranch at the mouth of Glenwood Canyon:• Vail • Gypsum• Minturn• Basalt=========================================