As my name seems to have been batted around quite a bit recently, and as we live under a wonderful First Amendment that allows each of us to speak our opinions, here's my two cents worth.
Yes, I did write a private letter to Mr. Koch on March 7, 2011.
The letter was subsequently pirated by a misfit magazine for yet another gossipy gotcha story, replete with the usual factual errors and innuendo. I wrote the letter to Mr. Koch, not to Oxbow Mining nor to a magazine. Notwithstanding the vicarious thrill that many people get from reading somebody else's private mail, there isn't a thing in the letter I would not stand by today.
The letter supports coal mining in America and thus the preservation of local mining jobs in the North Fork Valley. The six-page letter, accompanied by my "big map," had virtually nothing to do with the proposed Koch Bear Ranch land exchange. It had everything to do with a separate exchange proposal that would have provided positive enhancements to the proposed Oak Mesa coal mine. For example, it included a coal train load-out on BLM lands in the 'dobies and transportation methods to get the coal trucks off of 3100 Road, which would be a good thing. In the process, certain private lands within the Black Canyon National Park would go into the public domain, which would also be a good thing. And yes, as everyone knows, I have an ownership interest in the Black Canyon lands.
It was a win-win-win proposal. The public, Oxbow Mine, and the Black Canyon land owners would all have benefited. It was a straight-up proposal. There was no arm-twisting. There was no "extortion." It was simply a business proposal, nothing more, nothing less. To this day, I have yet to receive a response to the letter, either yea or nay.
Contrary to statements made by Mr. Koch's PR agent that "we don't do business that way," what actually happened was that two of Mr. Koch's agents came to my home and sat at my dining room table to review the proposal. This meeting with Bear Ranch manager Rob Gill and Western Land Group's Tom Glass was unusual in that the public at this time was still being told that the Oak Mesa land acquisitions were really nothing more than cattle ranches. As months passed without a response, I simply assumed they had no interest.
But for the Koch agents to now come out and insinuate that they believe they were being asked to buy the Black Canyon lands as a quid pro quo for the removal of exchange opponent Marston, is disingenuous on their part.
As to my offer to facilitate an amicable discussion between Mr. Koch, Mr. Sims and Mr. Marston, and as to my "knowing what Marston wants" and "what neighbor Sims wants"; all of that is quite true. I do know what they want.
In so many words, I told Mr. Glass that neighbor Jim Sims wants his grandsons to be able to hunt on the ridge of Layton Gulch just as he has for the last 30 years, instead of having it turned into a private hunting preserve for Mr. Koch's friends.
I told Mr. Glass and Mr. Gill that Ed Marston wants an open public process, with open appraisals, where the merits of the exchange can be openly discussed. I told them that Marston wants, in some fashion, to preserve the existing public access on the County Road 2 route to Deep Creek; that he wants quality lands in return for quality lands given up.
I sat at this table and asked Tom Glass point blank if he would consider taking the exchange through the public process. I could then take that back to Marston as a starting point. His response was a quick and curt "absolutely not"; it's going to be a legislated land exchange.
As to Ed Marston, he has been one of my staunchest critics for the past 25 years. For certain, we are ideological opposites. Nevertheless, he is one of the few who has had the guts to stand up and say something isn't right with this Bear Ranch land exchange. And I say, good for him.
As a point of correction, my cabin and other homes at Erikson Springs would not be materially affected by this exchange. We would get a bit more road traffic. However, the property value of my close friend and neighbor Jim Sims would be significantly damaged. Jim is the reason why I came into all of this. And unlike some who are no doubt being paid a princely sum as agents, my pay from Jim is a pack of orange soda.
Notwithstanding the fact there was never a compelling public reason to entertain this exchange in the first place, the most serious flaw simply has to do with process. That is to say, why hasn't anybody challenged Tom Glass's assertion that this has to be a legislated exchange? Everybody knows why the 80-acre Utah parcel and the five-acre Forest Service parcel were inserted. Hell, in the past, I've suggested the out-of-state gambit myself, in regard to our Black Canyon lands. It's perfectly legal to go out and create a legislated land exchange, but it doesn't mean it's right, or even necessary in most cases.
The 80-acre Utah parcel could be easily dropped and other Colorado lands could be substituted. To make sure that Mr. Koch doesn't feel like I'm trying to get into his pocket, I will withdraw from consideration all Black Canyon National Park private lands under my control. There are plenty of fine Colorado lands that could be chosen that have nothing to do with me. The five-acre Forest Service pond parcel next to Bill Tennison's former home could easily be withdrawn. The GMUG National Forest routinely issues special use permits for water impoundments on forest lands.
That would leave a straight-up exchange proposal that could go through a full public review process and be debated on the merits. All appraisals should be released for public review.
If the modified exchange has merit, it should go forward. If it doesn't, it should be set aside. The arbiter should be Montrose BLM director Lori Armstrong, who is in charge of managing the public lands that would be given up.
Her decision should be final, subject to the federal appeal process. Senator Udall, Senator Bennett, and Congressman Tipton should mandate this exchange back into the public administrative process under BLM guidelines in place for federal land exchange.
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