Delta County Commission cautious ahead of Bear Ranch vote

The Delta County Commission will vote next week on a proposal to support a land swap that is centered in neighboring Gunnison County.

Billionaire coal-mine owner William Koch is seeking support for the proposed trade, which would provide land to the federal government in Colorado and Utah while allowing Koch to consolidate tracts of his land overlooking Paonia Reservoir, which are separated by a strip of land administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

The commissioners Monday will see a letter of support that Commissioner Bruce Hovde last week requested be drafted. The proposed swap includes a benefit to Delta County, Hovde said, referring to improved access to an area outside Paonia known as Jumbo Mountain.

The Jumbo Mountain access is a sweetener thrown in by Koch to win support for the swap, which drew fire from Delta County residents when it was broached in 2009 because it failed to include a benefit to them.

The Jumbo Mountain access fills that gap, Hovde said, noting it promises to be an economic boon to the county.

The current access to Jumbo Mountain, which is administered by the BLM, goes through private property and is revocable, Hovde said.

The owner of the access already has a condition barring people from taking their dogs through the access and onto the public land, Hovde said.

Koch is offering to buy land that could be used as a staging area and access off Minnesota Creek Road to what are touted as world-class biking trails.

Although Hovde asked that the letter of support be drafted, he said he is withholding judgment on whether the commission should sign it.

“I haven’t seen it yet,” he said.

Commissioners Olen Lund and Douglas Atchley said they are unwilling to commit to a position until seeing the letter.

“I want to hear what other commissioners are thinking,” Atchley said.

Koch’s first offer called for him to swap two pieces of private land. One parcel overlooks Blue Mesa Reservoir and the Dillon Pinnacles and would go to the National Park Service. The other parcel is within Dinosaur National Monument in Utah.

In exchange, Koch wants about 1,800 acres that separate his Bear Ranch into two parts.

The swap must be approved by Congress because it involves two states and three federal agencies.


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