Ouray, Forest Service close to land agreement on ice park
OURAY — The city of Ouray is one step closer to acquiring land encompassing the Ouray Ice Park from the U.S. Forest Service as both sides await news from a federal reviewer on the land’s appraisal value.
“We should have the review of the appraisal by around of the first week of February,” said Tammy Randeall-Parker, Ouray district ranger for the Forest Service.
The 24 acres under inspection contain the Ouray Ice Park, a leading economic driver for the city, and a shooting range used by the Ouray Police Department. The original plan, finalized many years ago, totaled nearly 40 acres with an appraisal by the Forest Service of $870,000.
According to Ouray City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli, the city at the time was unable to meet that price.
“The city disagreed with the appraiser’s methods for this appraisal because we felt there were specific flaws in assumptions made which were in conflict with local land-use code. We challenged this appraised amount, and the Forest Service stood by their appraisal, so both parties walked away,” Rondinelli said.
Despite those failed negotiations, both sides continued to work to make the land purchase a reality, Rondinelli said.
“This is a project that the Forest Service fully supports,” Randeall-Parker said.
Two years ago, the city redesigned the project to be only 24 acres. The new appraisal for those acres was $247,000. After some delay, the new plan and appraisal were submitted to a Forest Service reviewer in December.
Rondinelli said Wednesday that the city is awaiting the review and could know something within 30 days. He said the city and Forest Service are scheduled for a conference call next week.
“My understanding is that once the Forest Service has reviewed and given approval to the new appraisal, then we will have a final number to negotiate around for final agreement. Once this is done, we are hopeful things will move rather quickly,” Rondinelli said.
The land the ice park sits on is owned by four different entities: the city of Ouray; Ouray County; the Forest Service; and Eric Jacobson, a private citizen.
Rondinelli said a determination was made early in the negotiations that the park would operate best with the city as sole owner and operator. He said the city worked with the other landowners and acquired special-use permits and access easements.
The Forest Service and city initially used the Small Tracts Act and the Townsite Act as a guide in the sale negotiations.
The Small Tracts Act addresses title claims and disposal of mineral fractions and unneeded rights-of-ways, according to the Forest Service.
The Townsite Act allows the sale of lands for the purpose of public use to counties and cities in 11 western states, including Colorado.
The process is mandated by federal regulations to determine the best use of the land, including public benefit and if the proposal affects or impairs areas valued for scenic, wildlife, environmental, historical, archeological, or cultural elements.
According to federal regulations, upon approval, the authorized Forest Service office will take appropriate steps to have an assessment made of the fair market value of the land.
Since the ice park opened in 1994, Ouray’s sales tax and lodging tax revenues increased during the winter months, and it added the Ouray Ice Climbing Festival, Rondinelli said.
“Ouray was dependent strictly on summer tourism, but the ice park has really helped to bring a winter economy to the community,” Rondinelli said.
If the Forest Service approves the city’s appraisal, the city would apply for a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to help purchase the land, Rondinelli said.
The Great Outdoors application is due in March, and if the city receives the grant, it could close on the sale before next season, he said.