^
Keep Westword Free
4

John Salazar land swap deal drawing national attention -- and heat

An unusual land swap deal on the Western Slope orchestrated by Representative John Salazar, one that would benefit his largest campaign contributor, is starting to draw scrutiny well beyond disgruntled hunters and activists in Gunnison County, who claim the public is getting the short end of the transaction. The Wall Street Journal recently weighed in with its own report on the controversy, looking at William Koch's effort to acquire strips of federal land that now divide his 4500-acre cattle ranch.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel continues to raise questions (and hackles) about the deal, too, with this article speculating about the motives of opponents of the trade.

Last spring, Salazar introduced legislation that would add 900 acres to the Curecanti National Recreation Area in exchange for 1,800 acres of federal land that Koch, the billionaire scion of a family oil refining empire, is seeking for his ranch. Koch has an interest in natural gas and mining interests in Colorado, and he and other family members have contributed close to $40,000 to Salazar's campaigns. The federal land at issue is under the authority of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, John's brother.

Representative Salazar says the bill was drafted in response to requests by local county commissioners. Critics of the deal, including former High County News publisher Ed Marston, have lamented a lack of public input in the process and pointed to leaked Bureau of Land Management documents that suggest some of the federal land in question, including a key access road for hikers and hunters, shouldn't be on the table.

I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

As the Journal points out, there are certain benefits to the trade, including protecting valued sage grouse habitat from development and eliminating some private holdings inside Dinosaur National Monument. But the notion of turning over a public road to a private interest sticks in the craw of many locals, it seems.

Koch has pledged to pay $250,000 to improve other roads in the area to make up for the one he's taking -- and only $50,000 if the feds still require him to let bikers and hikers, but not motorized vehicles, use the road to get to other forest land in the area.

Salazar has indicated that he doesn't plan to push the bill until next year. Count on the whole deal getting a lot more public discussion in the next few weeks of election season.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.

 

Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.