Land swap talk

Hayden board may support exchange

It does not appear that Citizens to Save Our Public Lands will receive a letter of support from the Hayden Town Board, but the Emerald Mountain Partnership might.

The Emerald Mountain Partnership is a group attempting to make a trade of several small Bureau of Land Management properties for the 6,300-acre Emerald Mountain to prevent development of the mountain. Since May, Citizens to Save Our Public Lands has been trying to stop the partnership's efforts, fearing the exchange will take away from smaller Routt County communities by taking the land and revenues the lands produce from hunters.

Citizens to Save Our Public Lands received a letter of support from the town of Oak Creek, and based on comments made at a previous Hayden Town Board meeting, it appeared the group would get the same support from the town of Hayden.

However, the two trustees -- Joe Schminkey and Chencho Salazar -- who voiced support of the citizens group at the Oct. 2 meeting were absent at Thursday night's meeting. Trustees Ken Gibbon and Tim Frentress, who were absent at the Oct. 2 meeting, were present Thursday night, and they said they supported the Emerald Mountain Exchange.

The lack of a full board proved to be problematic not only for this issue, but with the meeting's other discussions, as well.

The trustees in attendance agreed to support the Emerald Mountain exchange if the board and both interest groups could work together to keep the BLM lands that have public access out of the trade and look at other parcels.

Ben Beall of the Emerald Mountain Partnership said they previously had made that proposal to the citizens group, but that the group had turned it down.

Rebecca Rolando, who represents the citizens group, did not disagree with Beall's statement.

Fred Conrath of the Little Snake Field Office of the BLM in Craig, spoke at the meeting to explain the land swap, saying, "there seems to be some misinformation out there."

Conrath said the BLM was in favor of the land trade for several reasons.

First, he said it was difficult to manage multiple small properties and easy to manage one large property: Emerald Mountain.

Second, he said about 90 percent of the parcels involved in the trade do not have public access, are landlocked by private property, and therefore cannot be used by the public. Also, because people want to use the public lands for hunting or recreational purposes, the BLM regularly gets reports of trespassing on the private lands surrounding their properties.

"We think public lands should be accessible to all Americans," Conrath said.

Paul Strong of the Emerald Mountain Partnership said the land swap would increase public accessibility by about 63 percent.

On the other side of the debate, Rolando said the Emerald Mountain exchange would take away from the town of Hayden, particularly with revenues generated by hunters. She said she counted 37 vehicles parked at a publicly accessible BLM property north of Hayden last Friday night and figured from statistics that each hunter on average spends about $3,750 per hunting trip. She said this money would be lost if the land swap occurred.

However, Hayden trustees said the land swap probably would not hurt Hayden economically and that the hunters would keep coming back.

Trustee Tim Frentress said he found that most of the BLM lands involved in the trade did not benefit the public but did benefit the private landowners adjacent to the BLM properties.

"Let's work with both groups and make an endorsement on the final product," Trustee Ken Gibbon said.

In other business:

n Absent trustees led to the decision to extend a waterline to county resident Brett Brooks to be delayed again. Gibbon stood his ground opposing the out-of-town connection, saying it is "our distinct responsibility as stewards to the town to deny this tap. There is no advantage to the town. Water is a privilege to town residents."

Brooks said he would prefer a town water connection over a key for the town's pump station, but Hayden Planning Commission member Tom Rogalski said key pump owners would prefer that. Frentress said Brooks was "not getting a fair shake" if the board voted Thursday night, so he recommended tabling the vote until all trustees were present. In light of the almost countless discussions about this issue, the board then overruled Frentress, saying a decision would be made at the next meeting, regardless of which members were present.

n The board approved revising its contract with planning consultants Winston and Associates to have the consultants focus their work on the entire town, rather than the 900-acre Sunburst Ranch development. Gordon Dowling, Hayden resident and representative of the Sunburst developers, asked why a Winston consultant has never come to a formal town meeting. Tammie Delaney, with the Orton Family Foundation, a group dedicated to helping Hayden's growth planning efforts, said she would request that a representative from Winston come to a town meeting in the near future.

-- To reach Nick Foster call 871-4204

or e-mail nfoster@steamboatpilot.com

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