BLM prints intent for swap

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The Bureau of Land Management has published its intent to begin the Emerald Mountain land exchange, setting into motion one of the last legs of the controversial land swap.

Phillis Bowers, BLM realty specialist for the Little Snake Office, said the BLM plans to hold three public meetings about the exchange as part of that process.

For almost three years, the Emerald Mountain land swap has been in the works, with the hopes of trading 106 scattered parcels of BLM land in Routt County totaling 14,977 acres to private ownerships in exchange for putting the ownership of the 6,345-acre Emerald Mountain in BLM hands. The money generated from selling BLM land to private owners will be given to the State Land Board, which now owns Emerald Mountain.

Last summer, the BLM's Washington, D.C., office approved a feasibility study for the Emerald Mountain land exchange and signed off on an agreement of intent to begin the exchange. The notice of intent, which was published in the federal register Jan. 28, is just one more step toward the final exchange.

Bowers said that because few people read the federal register, the BLM's notice of intent also would be printed in local publications.

Although the notice of intent is the official start of the public process, the BLM has worked with the Emerald Mountain Partnership, the group facilitating the exchange, in educating the public at numerous meetings throughout the county.

City Council President Paul Strong, who is on the Emerald Mountain Partnership, said that from this point on, the process is in the hands of the BLM and the partnership is just another interested party.

"We have no more say in the BLM process than anyone else does," Strong said.

Bowers hopes the exchange could be finished within a year, but he noted that environmental studies and the final assessment of property needs to be completed.

"That is what we are shooting for," Bowers said. "Once things get to Washington, they don't always go as quickly as we like to have them go."

Strong also hopes to have the exchange completed within a year and noted that the agreement with the State Land Board expires in March 2006.

The intent is to have the land appraised by the end of the summer and another six months to finalize the exchange, Strong said.

"It is exciting. This is what we have been working toward for three years," Strong said. "We feel once public process is started, it will be abundantly clear that this is beneficial."

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