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Introduction Of The “Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest Land Exchange Act Of 2007”

Sen. Mark Udall

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Madam Speaker, today I am introducing the ``Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forests Land Exchange Act of 2007''.

This bill will facilitate a fair exchange of lands on the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest near Boulder, CO, between the Forest Service and the Sugar Loaf Fire District. The Fire District is seeking this exchange so that they can maintain and upgrade their fire stations serving the Sugar Loaf community and other nearby communities and properties--areas that are in the wildland/urban interface and thus at risk of wildfires. In fact, these fire stations serve the area that was burned in the Black Tiger Fire in 1989. That fire was the motivation for the Sugar Loaf community to invest more strongly in fire protection. The Fire District has grown a lot over the years, and will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this August.

The bill relates to two fire stations. Station 1 was acquired by the Fire District through an original mining claim under the 1872 mining laws. In 1967, a public meeting was held on this property to establish a fire district and modify the old school building on the site into a firehouse to hold a fire truck and other firefighting equipment. On May 14, 1969, the U.S. Forest Service approved a special use permit, which allowed the fire department to use both the firehouse and approximately 5 acres of the property under it. The special use permit was reissued on August 11, 1994, with a life of 10 years.

In 1970, the fire department applied for a special use permit to operate and maintain a second firehouse--station 2--on Sugar Loaf Road. The original permit was approved on in 1970, and had an expiration date of December 31, 1991. The permit boundary included 2 acres.

The special use permit issued in 1994 combined the two permits for stations 1 and 2 into one. The new permit for station 2 reduced the permit area to one acre, because the area of impact and existing improvements did not exceed one acre.

The Fire District entered into discussions with the Forest Service about a land swap. In August 1997, the Fire District filed an application to acquire the property under stations 1 and 2 pursuant to the Small Tracts Act (STA). The STA allows for transfers of small mineral fractions by the sale of property for market value, or by the exchange of properties of nearly equal value. The application proposed trading a mining claim surrounded by National Forest, for approximately 3 acres under station 1 and 1.5 acres under station 2.

The Fire District worked in good faith to comply with the STA. In November 2002, officials from the Fire District met with officials from the Forest Service. Upon review of the STA application, the Forest Service's concluded that the parcel under station 2 did not qualify for a land exchange and that the Fire District would have to pursue a new special use permit for the property under station 2. As a result, the Fire District is interested in securing ownership of the land under these stations through this exchange legislation.

The Fire District has occupied and operated these fire stations on these properties for over 30 years, and, if they can secure ownership, the lands will continue to be used as sites for fire stations. The Fire District has made a strong, persistent, good faith effort to acquire the land under the stations through administrative means and has demonstrated its sincere commitment to this project by expending its monetary resources and the time of its staff to satisfy the requirements set forth by the Forest Service.

However, those efforts have not succeeded and it has become evident that legislation is required to resolve the situation.

The Fire District is willing to trade the property it owns for the property under the stations. However, the Fire District is firm in its position that it wants land under both stations, and that the amount of land must be adequate to satisfy both its current and anticipated needs.

Under the bill, the land exchange will proceed if the Fire District offers to convey acceptable title to a specified parcel of land amounting to about 5.17 acres in an unincorporated part of Boulder County within National Forest boundaries between the communities of Boulder and Nederland. In return, the land--about 5.08 acres--where the two fire stations are located will be transferred to the Fire District.

The lands transferred to the Federal government will become part of the Arapaho-National Forest and managed accordingly.

The bill provides that the Forest Service shall determine the values of all lands involved through appraisals in accordance with Federal standards. If the lands conveyed by the Fire District are not equal in value to the lands where the fire stations are located, the Fire District will make a cash payment to make up the difference. If the lands being conveyed to the Federal government are worth more than the lands where the fire stations are located, the Forest Service can equalize values by reducing the lands it receives or by paying to make up the difference or by a combination of both methods. The bill requires the Fire District to pay for the appraisals and any necessary land surveys.

The bill permits the Fire District to modify the fire stations without waiting for completion of the exchange if the Fire District holds the Federal government harmless for any liability arising from the construction work and indemnifies the Federal government against any costs related to the construction or other activities on the lands before they are conveyed to the Fire District.

Madam Speaker, this is a relatively minor bill but one that is important to the Fire District and the people it serves. I think it deserves enactment without unnecessary delay.