Would land swap sacrifice public access?
San Francisco, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 10/03/2012 -- A land dispute in Colorado pits a wealthy industrialist against proponents of public access, including one of his neighbors.
Billionaire Bill Koch wants to join two halves of his Bear Ranch, a 4,500-acre property divided by a corridor of federally owned land. Koch offered to give the National Park Service two parcels elsewhere for the Colorado corridor and four smaller properties.
Opponents of the deal object to the loss of public lands around the town of Paonia.
Koch, whose brothers support conservative Republican issues, suggests that politics are behind the opposition to his proposal.
“I didn’t know there was such a vitriolic hatred for me in Paonia, and particularly from people I’ve never met,” Koch told The New York Times. “With some of these people, it’s class warfare, or it’s some of my brothers’ political activity is sloughing off on me.”
Although Koch has drawn less attention than his brothers, he has supported the Mitt Romney campaign, donating $3 million to a political action committee backing the Republican presidential candidate.
Koch also is big employers in Paonia, where residents speak positively of him. Frank Mastrullo, whose stepson is employed at a coal mine owned by Koch, said the public stands to lose little by trading the land.
“It’s an envy thing,” Mastrullo told The Times, “No matter what this man wanted to do, they’d oppose him.”
For three years, Koch has been putting together a private replica of an Old West town on land that is visible from the corridor. The settlement will consist of dozens of buildings, including a train station, that will show off historical items he has collected, but Koch has said he does not intend to open it to the public.
“I do want to have a home in my town,” he said. “While I’m still alive, I don’t want to invite the public through my home.”
But one neighbor said the public should not lose access to the land. Jim Sims, owner of a nearby ranch, said the dispute is “all about privacy.”
“All it does is kick the public off of some prime ground that they should have access to,” Sims said of the proposal.
Any deal would need to have approval from Congress.
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