U.S. Forest Service approves Berlaimont Estates access road proposal near Edwards

Controversial project has other hurdles to clear

The developers of the proposed Berlaimont Estates project have been added to the defendants' side of a lawsuit challenging approval of a road to the property across federal land.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

The U.S. Forest Service on Friday issued a final decision on a road access proposal for Berlaimont Estates, a 680-acre parcel just northwest of Edwards. That parcel is surrounded by Forest Service land.

The proposal has been roughly 15 years in the making, with much of the controversy revolving around the construction of a road into the project.

Five facts
  • Berlaimont Estates is a 680-acre parcel north and west of the Edwards Interstate 70 interchange
  • The parcel is surrounded by U.S. Forest Service property
  • The property owners have proposed building 19 homes on lots of at least 35 acres
  • The U.S. Forest Service announced Friday it would approve a paved road through public land to the 680-acre Berlaimont Estates project.
  • That decision was preceded in 2019 by the publication of a final record of decision on the project’s Environmental Impact Statement

The plan would divide the parcel into 19 parcels of 35 acres or more. Parcels of that size are exempt from county zoning review, but the road access required a federal review process.

The route into the parcel calls for paving 2.4 miles of Forest Service roads, as well as creating 0.2 miles of new road on National Forest System land.

According to a release from the White River National Forest, Friday’s decision applies only to federal land. Developers need additional county approvals for roads on private property.

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In the release, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams stated: “The decision meets our legal requirement to provide adequate access to the inholding while largely limiting the access to existing roads to minimize impacts to National Forest System lands.”

‘Hundreds of comments’

Fitzwilliams’ statement acknowledges the “hundreds of comments from people concerned about potential impacts to wildlife and other resources.” But, the statement continues, the final decision has modified an alternative that is “responsive to public concerns around minimizing impacts to wildlife and recreation, while meeting our legal requirements.”

Berlaimont opponents, clad in the topical T-shirt designed by Tim Wolf, present an oversize letter to White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams during a special meeting in May 2019. The letter was signed by more than 200 local residents who are also opposed the the proposal, located north of Edwards in an area that has been designated as critical wildlife habitat.
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Former state Sen. Kerry Donovan was one of several state and federal officials who in 2021 signed a letter opposing the project.

Donovan said Friday’s decision shows the Forest Service is “wildly out of step with local voices.”

The road approval cites as its basis the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which directs the Forest Service to provide “adequate access” to private property surrounded by national forest lands.

U.S. Forest Service Holy Cross District Ranger Aaron Mayville outlines the proposed snowmobile access changes for the Berlaimont Enviromental Impact Statement during an open house presention in Aug. 2018 in Minturn. Dozens of local residents attended the session.
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Donovan said many opponents believe the Forest Service is “misreading” that rule.

Donovan, who grew up in Eagle County, said many local residents “know the importance of preserving this area. … We know (Berlaimont) is part of a landscape-level migration corridor, we’ve got to stand up strong against (it).”

‘Critical’ habitat

Donovan noted that opponents have included wildlife experts who have said that the area that includes the Berlaimont parcel is “a critical part of the landscape to preserve.”

The Wilderness Workshop, based in Carbondale, has been one of the organizations opposed to the Berlaimont project. In a Friday statement, Wilderness Workshop’s legal director Peter Hart wrote: “This approval sets a terrible precedent. Today’s decision fails to protect public lands and wildlife, while ignoring the public and defying logical consideration of the record.”

Longtime local resident Susie Kincaid in an email wrote that while she’s no longer working with the Wilderness Workshop, she expects to be “one of the thousands of determined citizenry who will use my voice to try to stop the Berlaimont project.”

Kincaid added that “litigation is a possibility.”

Donovan noted that Eagle County was one of the first communities in the country to go to court regarding federal land use decisions, so there’s certainly a precedent.

In addition, Donovan said, “I hope we could also look at different avenues for protection.”

Kristin Kenney Williams is the owner of Commfluent Inc., which is handling public relations for the project. In a brief statement, she wrote, “Due to the nature and substance of the modified alignment selected, we are taking our time to review the final decision.”

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