U.S. FOREST SERVICE RETHINKS ROAD THROUGH PUBLIC LANDS TO RITZY VAIL VALLEY DEVELOPMENT

Following objections to Berlaimont Estates, the White River National Forest’s supervisor must scrutinize the impacts of 19 luxury homes on the broader landscape

Jason Blevins

Feb 17, 2021

Florida developers are planning to build 19 luxury homes on their 680-acre inholding of private land above Edwards. The White River National Forest has proposed allowing a road across federal land to reach the property, located in the snowy aspens at the top of this aerial photo. But the developers are objecting, saying the approved access would have greater impacts than their preferred road. (Bruce Gordon / Ecoflight, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The proposed road through public land weaves up the mountain to thickets of aspens where Florida developers want to build trophy homes. 

The bureaucratic path to approval, more than a decade in the making, is even more serpentine, as a chorus of wildlife advocates and conservationists fight the plan.

“It’s quite obvious that most people, especially in Eagle County, do not like this and do not want it and I’m trying to balance that with applying and implementing the laws of the land,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, the White River National Forest supervisor. Fitzwilliams in September approved a road through federal land above Edwards to give the developers access to an island of private property where they want to build Berlaimont Estates. The developers, however, argue he picked the wrong road.

The Alaska National Interest and Lands Conservation Act of 1980 — or ANILCA — requires federal land managers to provide “adequate access” for “reasonable use” of private property surrounded by public land. 

When Fitzwilliams approved the road in September — after more than 12 years of federal and local review — wildlife advocates cried foul, arguing the road would impact elk and deer herds in a valley where development and recreation has already reduced winter habitat. Many asked that Fitzwilliams simply deny the road.  

“ANILCA can be a hard law to understand,” Fitzwiliams said. “I’ve received so many emails and letters and petitions, telling me I should reject any access. I wish it was as easy as people described in those letters.”

The developers — Petr Lukes and Jana Sabatova — were troubled by the decision as well, arguing Fitzwilliams violated ANILCA and federal environmental laws by approving a road to 19 homesites on 680-acres of private land that was not their preferred alternative. (The developers wanted a less winding, less expensive road that accessed their property in the middle, not the side. They enlisted Eagle County safety officials in support of their route.)

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams approved the Alternative 2 route climbing up from Edwards and Interstate 70 so developers could have “adequate access” to 19 proposed homes on a private parcel surrounded by public land. The developers are objecting to Fitzwilliams’ decision, arguing the Alternative 3 route has less impact and is safer. (White River National Forest)

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