Comment period of land swap ending

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— The majority of public comments received on the Emerald Mountain land exchange are in favor of the proposal.

The public's window for commenting on the proposal ends Wednesday. For almost two months, the Bureau of Land Management has conducted the official public comment period for the land exchange proposal.

BLM Planning and Environ--mental Coordinator Duane Johnson said that, including the comments sent to his office and those made at three public meetings throughout Routt County, the office has received between 250 and 300 comments.

Of those comments, just about 25 percent are against the land exchange, Johnson said. Of those in favor of the exchange, comments mostly expressed a desire to have nonmotorized uses on the land. The comments also stated that cross-country skiing, mountain biking, grazing and hunting would be acceptable recreational uses on the land.

The majority of the comments came from Steamboat Springs residents, Johnson said.

Johnson said he would have liked to see more people comment about how the BLM should manage Emerald Mountain, instead of simply stating that they supported the land exchange.

"It gives us more credence in weighing some of that," Johnson said.

Johnson was surprised that more comments did not address the use of rights of way and whether residents did not want to see rights of way on certain parcels of land.

For almost three years, the Emerald Mountain land swap has been in the works, with organizers hoping to trade 129 scattered parcels of BLM land in Routt County totaling 15,621 acres to private ownership and to put the ownership of 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 owns Emerald Mountain.

The BLM public process marks the last leg in the land exchange. After all comments are gathered, Johnson said a team would divide the comments into categories to review them. Comments will be used in determining whether the trade should go through and, if so, how the land should be managed.

The final decision for the exchange comes down to whether the BLM field manager thinks the land gained in the trade has an equal value to the land lost.

As the BLM is working on a management plan for Emerald Mountain, an outside assessor will be assessing the value of the BLM parcels proposed in the trade and of Emerald Mountain. After the third-party assessor is finished, a BLM assessor will review those values.

Johnson hopes the assessments will be finished by the end of the summer.

Although the deadline for comments is Wednesday, Johnson said his office would accept comments received through the middle of next week.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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