Group looks at land swap |

Group looks at land swap

Partnership trying to make deal with Land Board, BLM

— The Emerald Mountain Partnership has started to focus on more than 200 parcels of federal property in Routt County to determine if the land can be traded for Emerald Mountain.

The partnership is trying to broker a land swap between the State Land Board and the Bureau of Land Management.

The partnership, which wants to protect Emerald Mountain from development, is examining BLM land that could be traded to the State Land Board, which owns the mountain in Steamboat Springs.

“We are in the very beginning of this process,” said Ben Beall, partnership chairman. “We are just starting to look at parcels.”

Recently, the BLM identified 220 parcels the agency would be willing to trade with the State Land Board for Emerald Mountain.

For the swap to happen, the BLM land must have the same value as Emerald Mountain, which has been appraised at $17 million.

The partnership has to find a group of residents that is willing to buy the BLM land to pay for the State Land Board for Emerald Mountain.

“The State Land Board just wants the money,” said Susan Otis, who is a member of the partnership.

How the partnership proceeds with finding buyers for the BLM land could be tricky. Officials want the process not to be complicated or controversial.

To help out, the partnership has contracted with Denver-based Western Land Group Inc.

The company is acting as a consultant and has experience in dealing with these types of land swaps. The company is currently working on a land swap, which is similar to the one proposed here, in Jackson and Grand counties.

On Tuesday morning, company representative Tim Wohlgenant met with members of the partnerships and Routt County commissioners.

Wohlgenant said he has reviewed the BLM parcels, which total 20,000 acres, that have the potential to be traded.

“They are mostly isolated pieces of property,” Wohlgenant said. “They range from less than an acre to more than 1,000 acres.”

The BLM issued these parcels to the partnership after examining every parcel in Routt County. BLM land identified as having a public benefit was eliminated for consideration.

To keep the process as simple as possible, Wohlgenant is suggesting the partnership identify BLM land that is neighbored by a single property owner as the most desirable for the switch.

The next priority would be placed on land that is situated around numerous property owners.

For these properties, adjacent owners would be contacted and given the chance to purchase the property, Wohlgenant said.

The last priority of land that should be considered to be sold are parcels that have public access because of a county road.

Throughout this process, officials will be trying to keep land that could be developed out of the mix.

“These are public lands right now, and everyone expects for these lands to be public forever,” Beall said.

Wohlgenant said the partnership should be able to develop a plan that could be submitted to the BLM by the end of the summer.

Once a proposal is submitted to the BLM, the federal agency would start a two-year process to ensure this land could be traded.

BLM land would undergo evaluations for minerals and wildlife. Land that is deemed to have no public benefit could then be traded.

The 6,000-acre Emerald Mountain is currently held in stewardship trust until 2005 by the partnership.

The Land Board has the right and duty to sell Emerald Mountain to a private owner to help fund schools in Colorado. Through grazing and hunting leases, the land generates about $43,000 a year for the Land Board. Other than those leases, the land is private and cannot be used by the public.

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