Colorado Wild Public Lands
PO BOX 590
BASALT, CO 81621
June 7, 2016
Ms. Stephanie Odell
BLM Kremmling Field Office
2103 Park Ave.
Kremmling, CO 80459
Dear Ms. Odell,
We respectfully submit the following comments on the proposed Blue Valley Land Exchange. We are small non-profit of volunteers who advocate for public lands throughout Colorado. We hope that you will find these scoping comments constructive.
The EIS should include detailed analysis of alternatives to “the Proposed Action” and “No Action”; these should earnestly consider the agency’s discretion under FLPMA’ to reserve all existing public rights to float, fish and hunt parcels A, B, G, H, and I. The analysis should describe existing conditions accurately and provide detailed, quantitative evidence that the exchange enhances the public interest and not just expedient agency management; enhancement would include, but not be limited to, a quantifiable and qualitative net increase in stream access for floating and wade fishing, for hunting, for other recreational and for publicly managed wildlife habitat.
The BLM often asserts that the proposed action is the preferred alternative because the parcels traded to the proponent are “difficult to access” and “hard to manage”. The draft EIS should demonstrate in detail why this is so; such documentation should include information about access agreements across private property to reach these “difficult to manage” parcels, documentation of problems with public trespass, and any other such documentation and detail to uphold the agency’s assertions that the exchange enhances efficiencies.
MITIGATION AND MANAGEMENT
Generally, the EIS should include analysis of future management actions by any future management entity, whether it be the Spring Creek takeout, the “river park” on parcel 8 or the purported “road and trail improvements” to Green Mountain Canyon on parcel 10. Not only does the public deserve to know specifics about what they are receiving in return for conveying public lands to private entities, but these new public amenities will have impacts on the local environments and economies.
If the EIS reflects the proposed action as the preferred alternative, the document should include detailed analysis of future management of the Spring Creek takeout including specifics regarding which entities will hold the easement and undertake management, and how management will be funded. Nothing short of a perpetual easement will ensure on-going access to the public waters through the BVR; if the proponent chooses to convey this easement to a 501(3) organization, the easement should be co-held by the BLM or CPW; these organizations are charged with protecting public interest, whereas non-profit land trusts are privately funded organizations that steward private property rights, with no obligation to the public whatsoever.
The EIS should demonstrate that the proponent has conveyed a perpetual guarantee of the public’s right to float the Blue River, including a commitment to eliminate physical and verbal barriers to exercising those rights; the draft EIS should include an appendix disclosing a binding agreement between the proponent and appropriate entities, charged with protecting the public’s right to float the river.
Absent execution and disclosure of these important agreements, the BLM should hold Parcel H in escrow until such details are realized.
Parcel I’s conveyance to the proponent will eliminate wading access to the river; the management of Parcel 8 should offer mitigation for that loss. And include a trail across the oxbow to allow easy access to wading the river
This land exchange involves three beneficiary entities in addition to the proponent: Summit County, Skylark Ranch and the Blue Valley Homeowner’s association. The draft EIS should include full disclosure of and include as appendices, the contractual agreements among the BLM, the proponent and these other entities, especially as they involve private beneficiaries other than the proponent.
APPRAISALS AND VALUATION
The draft EIS should include an appendix of all current (as of the time of the draft’s release) appraisals so as to allow public scrutiny and comment; ideally, they should have been available as part of the public information posted on the website for the public to consider in scoping. If there are updated appraisals at the time of the release of the draft and/or final EIS and ROD, the new documents should be included as appendices as well.
In conducting future appraisals for this exchange, the BLM should ensure the appraisals utilize multiple techniques to fully consider the value of the lands included in the exchange, including but not limited to the assemblage value of the BLM lands to the exchange proponent. As documented in “Trophy Property Valuation; A Ranch Case Study, (2003) by Bill Mundy”, Trophy Ranch appraisals require specialized expertise and review. They should quantifiably document values for the proposed changes in use and costs and benefits to all parties in the exchange, be they public or private.
Appraisals should also reflect the full range of public property rights and values the proposed action conveys to the proponent. Parcels A and B offer access to the Game Species that pass through them and the adjacent public lands. The values of BLM Parcels G, H and I are the same to both the public and the proponent – access to the water and fish in the river; these appraisals should treat these parcels as would two private entities willingly entering into a transaction over developable river front property. Appraisals should include an analysis of other public values associated with river front property, including recreational contributions to the regional economy, habitat and species diversity and of the riparian area’s value in the region’s overall economic and environmental health.
In accordance with NEPA’s requirement to evaluate cumulative impacts of this action, the draft EIS should include details of previous exchanges of which the BVR and previous owners of the ranch (or ranches, if more than one were consolidated to create today’s singular one) were parties. This larger context is important in demonstrating the cumulative impacts of multiple land exchanges on the public’s right to enjoy this stretch of the Blue River.
PROCESSING AND FUNDING OF THE EXCHANGE
It is our opinion that the practice of having the proponent pay all costs of the analysis and processing of the exchange discourages the agencies from making committed decisions about participation. Such decisions should be based on the agencies’ long term planning and vision, and some proponent driven exchanges would not proceed due to the agencies’ limitations on resources and the proposals’ lack of enhancement to the agencies’ specific planning goals. However, since this is the standard practice, future documents should reflect revisions of the “Processing Costs and Funding” analysis in the Feasibility Analysis executed by the Agency in 2004; these revisions should reflect today’s costs and fees.
Finally, the NEPA process should include full disclosure of all paid participation in the development and processing of the exchange, including, but not limited to actual staff time at the BLM and other public agencies, and background and remuneration to any consultants providing services to the agency or the proponent.
We thank you and your staff for your consideration of our opinions and comments.
Secretary, Colorado Wild Public Lands