Agency also preparing a study on building a new facility along Dillon Dam Road
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A long-discussed plan to sell off some Forest Service property in Dillon and develop a new housing and work compound along Dillon Dam Road may be moving closer to fruition, as the agency prepares both projects for public scoping.
According to White River National Forest lands specialists, the agency is looking at a competitive or direct sale/exchange of its 11-acre Dillon property, located near Dillon water treatment facility. The sale would be authorized under a 2005 law that enables the Forest Service to sell, lease or exchange excess properties and keep the proceeds.
As proposed now, the agency would start a scoping process sometime next month to begin formal public involvement required by federal environmental laws. The preliminary schedule foresees a decision by early 2012. The Forest Service has been talking about a potential sale of the Dillon site since at least 2009.
At the same time, the Forest Service would consider developing a new compound in the Lake Hill area, located between Frisco and Dillon near the Heaton Bay Campground. The new compound could include a warehouse, storage buildings and employee quarters.
The two projects are not formally linked, but there would be no need to develop a new compound if the Dillon site isn’t sold, said the Forest Service’s Kevin Warner.
Plans for a new Forest Service compound along the Dillon Dam Road surfaced in 2009, when there was talk locally of using about 50 acres of national forest land in that area for affordable housing. Since the 2005 land law was passed, the White River National Forest has identified several tracts that could be sold, traded or leased to local entities, Forest Service land specialist Randy Parker said at the time.
Since then, the agency has pursued several similar deals in Eagle County, but none in Summit County so far. In the 2009 talks, the preferred option was identified as a long-term lease of about 170 acres of land in the Lake Hill area, with an early conceptual plan showing potential for developing several hundred units of affordable housing.
Parker said the lease option was attractive because the Forest Service could still exercise long-term control over the land and ensure that its own housing needs are met as part of any deal. The general idea is to work toward a collaborative agreement that meets the needs of the agency and local communities, Parker said in 2009.
The goal is to integrate Forest Service housing with the rest of the community. Parker said that reflects an overall demographic and social shift from the day when Forest Service rangers were stationed at isolated compounds in rural areas.
But the lease option would have likely required new federal legislation to clarify how such a pact between the federal government and local entities could work.
“The existing authorities aren’t adequate,” Parker said at the time.
The Forest Service has somewhat similar lease agreements with other federal agencies, including the US. Department of Veterans Affairs. But the existing law doesn’t give a framework for how an affordable housing partnership with local governments might work.