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Final land swap agreement inked

Locations: News Published

(Editor’s note: The Sopris Sun learned on Feb. 9, too late for this edition, that federal administrative judge James K. Jackson in Washington, D.C. on Thursday issued a “stay” of the Bureau of Land Management’s recent final approval for the Sutey-Two Shoes land exchange near Carbondale (see story below.)

According to statements from the Colorado Wild Public Lands (CWPL) organization, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the decision puts the land swap on hold until March 27, while a panel of administrative judges considers an appeal filed by CWPL.

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As part of the two-page order, Judge Jackson directed both the BLM and CWPL to submit briefs on the matter by Feb. 24, which will be reviewed by the panel of judges in making a decision by late March.)

By John Colson

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Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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The controversial land-swap deal known as Sutey-Two Shoes is to be completed on Thursday, Feb. 9,  with the signing of final documents by the Wexner family, owners of the Two Shoes Ranch at the base of Mount Sopris, and officials with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The swap, which has been a source of debates and disputes among local governments and land-conservation advocates since it was first proposed in 2009 by Leslie and Abigail Wexner. Leslie Wexner is an Ohio billionaire, chairman and CEO of the Limited Brands apparel company.

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As approved, the swap would put nearly 1,500 acres of land, currently owned by the public, in the Wexners’ hands — 1,268 acres in Pitkin County, at the base of Mt. Sopris, and 201 acres in Eagle County, southwest of the Town of Eagle.

Besides Pitkin and Eagle counties, Garfield also is involved in the overall swap, which will bring the Wexners’ holdings at the base of Mt. Sopris to roughly 5,600 acres.

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In return, the public will get the 557-acre Sutey Ranch north of Carbondale, adjacent to the Red Hill Special Management Recreation Area, and 112 acres known as the Haines parcel along Prince Creek Road south of Carbondale.

In addition, the Wexners will donate $100,000 directly to the BLM to pay for a site-specific management plan for Sutey Ranch, and $1 million to the Aspen Valley Land Trust “to be held in perpetuity for BLM’s long-term management of the newly acquired properties,” according to a statement issued by the BLM on Tuesday.

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At one point, Pitkin County strenuously opposed the swap, though that opposition was withdrawn as negotiations progressed. The Town of Carbondale, Garfield County, the Red Hill Council and officials for the Colorado Division of Wildlife (now Parks & Wildlife) all are on record as favoring the swap.

One local group, however, remains opposed to the deal and has threatened to take it to court.

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“We absolutely will look at appealing,” said Hawk Greenway, a member of the Basalt-based Colorado Wild Public Lands (CWPL) non-profit organization that was formed in 2014, initially with the sole purpose of thwarting the Sutey-Two Shoes swap.

The group has taken on other causes since then, according to Greenway.

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Concerning the swap, Greenway said, “I find it very strange that the BLM would go ahead [with the swap] without having the Board of Land Appeals ruling in hand.”

He was referring to a protest filed by the CWPL in 2014 against the swap. The CWPL maintained in its protest that the BLM illegally and improperly evaluated the comparative values of the lands involved in the swap, and that the public would not receive its proper value if the swap were to go through.

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The protest filing was to be heard by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA), and Greenway said that, without a final determination by the IBLA, his group will pursue its options in blocking the swap.

“We think our national public lands should be sacred and dealt with in a clear and above-board way, without the cooked appraisals,” Greenway said, implying that the appraisals of the various parcels in the swap were suspect and should be reviewed.

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He said he was unsure of the timing of any appeal, including what the deadline is for filing a notice of appeal.