Wilderness Workshop: Berlaimont is a boondoggle, not a done deal; voice your opinion (column) | VailDaily.com

Wilderness Workshop: Berlaimont is a boondoggle, not a done deal; voice your opinion (column)

Andy Wiessner
Valley Voices

Editor's note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.

Sometime within the next six months, the U.S. Forest Service will make a very important decision concerning the recently revised Berlaimont development above Berry Creek in Edwards.

What the Forest Service decides will permanently impact thousands of acres of absolutely critical and undeveloped wildlife habitat for deer, elk, sage grouse, cutthroat trout and other animals and plants.

Do Eagle Valley residents, particularly those in Edwards, Homestead and Lake Creek, want more sprawling development destroying what's left of our dwindling deer and elk herds?

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Berlaimont is proposing that the Forest Service grant them roughly 4.5 miles of paved road access across our White River National Forest public lands so they can maximize a 19-home (plus outbuildings) subdivision on their private land.

Berlaimont's developable land sits mostly 2,000 feet above the valley floor in the middle some of the finest and most visible remaining open space and wildlife winter range in Eagle County.

Their proposal would adversely impact several thousands of acres of surrounding National Forest land that the White River Forest Plan lists for category "5.41: Deer and Elk Winter Range" management. Thus far, the Forest Service has received roughly 650 public comments on Berlaimont and has told Wilderness Workshop that 90 percent to 95 percent of them oppose the project.

Berlaimont does not need the paved road it is requesting. They want 4.5 miles of pavement because it would maximize their development opportunities and profits and use National Forest land to do so. The Berlaimont land already has dirt road access, which existed when they bought their land. The Forest Service does not need to bail Berlaimont out of a bad investment decision by extending new roads onto the National Forest.

Let Berlaimont use its own land for access. New access across the National Forest would diminish the benefits of the Eagle Valley Land Exchange, which the Forest Service completed in 2013 to acquire wildlife rich land immediately adjacent to Berlaimont.

It would also run counter to the work groups such as Eagle County Open Space and the Eagle Valley Land Trust do to preserve our ever diminishing wildlife and open spaces.

Under the law known as the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (16 USC 3210), the Forest Service has broad discretion to limit Berlaimont's access to the existing dirt roads. Or it can allow those existing roads be upgraded to gravel or pavement.

That would be "adequate" and "reasonable" access under the Forest Service regulations that state access must be "so located and constructed as to minimize adverse impacts on soils, fish and wildlife, scenic, cultural, threatened and endangered species and other values of the Federal (i.e. National Forest) land" (36 CFR.251.114, (f)(2)).

What is not needed, and is not "reasonable," is a 4.5-mile paved road up very steep, and highly visible, slopes on our public National Forest land so that development can be maximized. Such a road would violate the Forest Plan and bring more people into the area. The Forest Service also recently proposed amendments to their EIS to add new trails and a snowmobile trailhead to the overall plan.

It is a bad idea. It's time to put wildlife ahead of development and recreation for a change.

Only concerned citizens in Eagle County can make the Forest Service do the right thing. And the right thing is to honor their own Code of Federal Regulations and Land Management Plan (Category 5.41) and limit Berlaimont's future access to the existing road(s), either as they are now or slightly upgraded. The Forest Service should not be aiding and abetting a bad development by Berlaimont that threatens the adjacent National Forest.

What can you do about all this?

1. The Forest Service is full of great people. Send them an email expressing your thoughts to Matt Klein, Forest Service realty specialist, at matthewklein@fs.fed.us, and copy District Ranger Aaron Mayville at aaronmayville@fs.fed.us.

Better yet, stop by the Forest Service office in Minturn and visit with Klein or Mayville. Ask them to honor the public input they have received and to drop the new recreation components of their plan. Tell them to listen to the experts at Colorado Parks and Wildlife who have repeatedly emphasized the adverse impacts Berlaimont will have. Get your friends and neighbors to write or call them, too.

2. Contact your Eagle County Commissioners and other local elected officials (town council, etc.) and share your views with them. Tell them a 19-home subdivision in prime wildlife habitat 2,000 feet above the Edwards valley floor is contrary to the county's "resource" zoning as set forth in the Eagle County Master Plan. Get involved, or Berlaimont will succeed in compromising your public land forever.

Andy Wiessner was an original member of the Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee, a long-time Vail resident and current board member of Wilderness Workshop. Wilderness Workshop is a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote wise use and conservation of lands and wildlife in and around the White River National Forest.