4,000 acres cut from land swap

State Land Board pulls land from Emerald Mountain exchange

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The State Land Board reduced by more than 4,000 acres the amount of land it wants to acquire in the Emerald Mountain land exchange.

The State Land Board announced Wednesday it is taking off the table 4,190 of the 4,300 acres it had intended to trade with the Bureau of Land Management, a move that may address the concerns of some opposed to the exchange.

The land trade is part of a proposed three-way transaction in which the State Land Board would hand over the 6,345-acre Emerald Mountain to the BLM for the money generated from the sale of scattered pieces of BLM land totaling 14,800 acres to private owners.

As part of the original proposal, the State Land Board also re-quested 4,300 specific acres of BLM land be transferred to its control. The board decided to revise its request because of public interest in some of the parcels.

A 1,489-acre parcel in South Routt was among those taken off the list. The area is accessed from Routt County Road 17 and borders U.S. Forest Service land. An 879-acre parcel, which is accessed from Routt County Road 37 in South Routt, also was taken off the list.

The land board said it took the two parcels off the list because they were large and had public access. A 160-acre portion of the Jimmy Dunn Draw, a popular West Routt hunting area, also was taken off the list.

State Land Board Executive Director Chris Castillian said the agency continued to support the land exchange. The State Land Board still wants to acquire four, 40-acre-or-less parcels totalling 110 acres. Three of the four parcels are adjacent to State Land Board land.

"We decided that the balance of property we were looking at acquiring may be better left under the administration of the BLM for the near future," Castillian said.

Since May, the group Citizens to Save Our Public Lands has publicly opposed the land exchange, largely because the land exchange will turn public land used by people in the smaller Routt County communities into private land. Many members in the group said they wouldn't likely use the land preserved on Emerald Mountain in Steamboat.

With the 4,190 acres taken off the table by the State Land Board, the amount of land proposed for the exchange that has public acccess has been reduced to 3,698 acres, Emerald Mountain Partnership Chairman Ben Beall said.

Beall said the decrease in the State Land Board's requested acreage does not put the land exchange in jeopardy and the 15,217 acres still in the exchange could generate the $15 million to $17 million needed to buy Emerald Mountain.

Just 15 of the 114 BLM parcels proposed for the trade are accessible from public roads, said City Councilman Paul Strong, who is on the Emerald Mountain Partner-ship's board of directors. Most of those sites are small, ranging from 8.7 acres to 40 acres.

"When compared to BLM's acquisition of Emerald Mountain, which will be available for grazing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, environmental education and hunting, the exchange benefits far outweigh the costs to the public," Strong said.

The State Land Board's decision could ease some of the tension when the Emerald Mountain Partnership goes before the Oak Creek Town Board tonight.

Oak Creek Mayor Cargo Rodeman had written a letter in support of Save Our Public Lands' effort to stop the swap.

In the letter, Rodeman states that South Routt is one of the prime hunting areas in Colorado and losing public acreage would hurt the economy.

"Oak Creek would be losing over 2,500 acres in a 10-mile radius of our town. This is open space that our citizens use and it is a high probability that this acreage would go into private development and be lost for use by our citizens," she wrote.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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