By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
The Sutey-Two Shoes land swap, involving a total of roughly 1,200 acres of publicly-owned property at the base of Mount Sopris near Carbondale and other public lands in western Colorado, remains in a state of suspended animation.
As the trade now stands – according to officials of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and volunteer members of a group fighting against the swap – a panel of administrative judges in Washington, D.C., is preparing to mull over questions about whether the public is getting fair value for its property in the proposed land trade with Ohio billionaire Leslie Wexner and his wife, Abigail.
The trade, which has been in the works for about eight years, calls for the Wexners to take title to 1,200 acres of BLM land that is sandwiched between approximately 4,000 acres of land already owned by the Wexners at the foot of Mount Sopris, as well as another 200 acres of public property in Eagle County.
In return, the public is to get the 557-acre Sutey Ranch north of Carbondale, adjacent to the Red Hill Special Management Recreation Area, 112 acres known as the Haines parcel along Prince Creek Road south of Carbondale, and more than $1 million in cash to be used for planning and management of the new public areas.
The swap is being opposed by some, including the Colorado Wild Public Lands (CWPL) nonprofit organization, which has filed an appeal based on its belief that appraisals of the properties, meant to ensure that the deal is equitable, managed to significantly undervalue the public land and should be redone.
While the trade was supposed to be concluded at a signing ceremony earlier this month, it turned out that the administrative judges of the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) had not issued a ruling on the appeal. And where the IBLA had in 2015 declined to delay, or “stay” the trade from moving forward based on the appeal, earlier this month the federal panel reversed course and granted a stay while it considers the appeal.
In granting the stay, the IBLA seemed to be conceding that the trade should not have moved forward prior to a decision on the appeal regarding the appraisals, according to BLM spokesman David Boyd.
The BLM has until Feb. 24 to file papers in support of the agency’s belief that the trade should move ahead, but according to Carbondale resident Franz Froelicher, a member of the CWPL, his organization has some weeks following Feb. 24 before it must file a response to a BLM argument.
In the meantime, Froelicher said, the Wexners’ attorneys have filed papers of their own in support of the proposed swap, which Froelicher said he had not reviewed in detail.
Although the future of the swap may be in doubt, Boyd told The Sopris Sun that the BLM continues to assume the trade will go through at some point.
But, he conceded, if the IBLA concludes that the appellants are correct, and there is a problem with the appraisals, things could change.
“We’d have to address it at that point,” Boyd said. “It could invalidate the decision” to move ahead with the swap.