40 attend land swap meeting | SteamboatToday.com

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40 attend land swap meeting

Residents upset about BLM, Emerald proposal

When Lyle and Gail Valora bought 40 acres of rural land, they envisioned their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren using the 180 acres of Bureau of Land Management land beside it.

They never dreamed that land would one day be sold to a private owner.

“I am sure there are a lot of people that bought property with the same intent. Now they are saying they are going to turn around and sell (the BLM land) out from under us. Who is going to compensate us for that?” Lyle Valora asked Friday night.

Valora was among the 40 people who crammed into the Hayden Town Hall’s meeting room to voice their concerns or ask questions about the BLM’s plan to swap some of its scattered public land in order to acquire the 6,425-acre Emerald Mountain. The mountain, one of Steamboat’s gems of open space, is owned by the State Land Board and could be sold and developed.

Headed by Rebecca Rolando, the nonprofit organization “Citizens to Save Our Public Lands” held its first public meeting Friday in an attempt to stop BLM from swapping parcels it sees as valuable to the public.

Some who attended the meetings were concerned their neighboring BLM land could be handed over to private owners. Others worried quality public hunting land was being taken away in the western and southern parts of the county in order to preserve Emerald Mountain, land they said they would never use.

“We have been fighting this thing, and we didn’t know how many other people it was involving,” Gail Valora said.

Ben Beall, president of the Emerald Mountain Partnership, was the lone representative from any of the organizations working on the Emerald Mountain deal. He fielded a flurry of questions on why certain BLM parcels were chosen, why the land could not be bid on by all the surrounding neighbors and why the residents of Steamboat could not raise the money to buy Emerald Mountain.

Beall said the partnership created a list of criteria for land that the BLM could trade to private owners. Topping that list were parcels that are landlocked by a single owner. They also looked at land that was inaccessible by the public and land that a single landowner surrounded by more than 50 percent.

“It is not like someone is being forced to take these parcels,” Beall said. “This is a benefit for Routt County landowners. Maybe not for every landowner, but in the end this is a better land use pattern, and these parcels are unmanageable.”

Some residents who came to Friday’s meeting said that policy allowed the bigger landowners to just get bigger.

Residents also said although the BLM land that is being proposed in the land swap might not be accessible by county roads or public lands, more people than the surrounding property owners use them.

“I believe the mission of both the BLM and Forest Service is to manage the land for the good of the most people,” Landowner Nadine Arroyo said. “I think we need to look around and see these parcels and see how much of the public is using them.”

Beall said the land that is proposed for the land swap has been on a list of BLM land the federal agency has wanted to dispose of since 1989, mainly because the parcels were too hard and inaccessible to manage. And with changes in federal policy, he said the land has a chance of being turned over to private owners even without the Emerald Mountain trade.

— To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com