Vail Daily editorial: A wise move | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily editorial: A wise move

the Vail Daily Editorial Board

The federal government isn't known as the home of good sense. A decision last week from the local U.S. Forest Service office affirmed that the feds get something right every now and then.

Holy Cross District Ranger Dave Neely last week announced that the Forest Service wants no part of, and will not accept, a proposal for a land exchange that could ultimately create private property — and expensive homes — on Meadow Mountain. In return, the Forest Service would receive now-private property on Battle Mountain.

Looked at under the light of cold logic, that deal makes sense. The owners of Battle Mountain have a parcel once envisioned as a private ski haven. That plan made next to no sense following the collapse of the national and world economies in 2007 and 2008, a slump from which few have truly recovered. The Battle Mountain plan evolved during the past few years, but still doesn't look very practical.

On the other hand, Meadow Mountain is a much more sensible spot for building. It's close to Interstate 70, housing would include "affordable" units and 75 percent of the property would remain open to the public. Of course, there's only about that much buildable land on the mountain, but most would remain open.

Throw in the environmental benefits of putting Battle Mountain into public hands, and the deal looks pretty sensible.

But the clear, cold light of reason often loses its focus in the face of emotion. In this case, valley residents love the easy access to public lands provided by that portal at Dowd Junction. Even if most public access would be preserved in a land trade, people want to see untrammeled hillside, not a new neighborhood, even one with friends and neighbors living there.

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Neely and his staff saw the public's response and looked at their own rules and regulations — as well as a handful of already-contentious projects. The people at the office at Dowd Junction then factored the likelihood that the public review process would be controversial, emotional, possibly litigious and last for years, and wisely decided that nobody in the valley needed that kind of aggravation.

The people who own Battle Mountain still may propose a land exchange. And there may come a time when enough of the public may see the value of a potential deal to make the process worthwhile. But that time isn't visible on anyone's near-future radar screens.

Letting this idea hibernate is the best choice the feds could make.