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Two environmental groups on Tuesday issued the following press release on their lawsuit to overturn the White River National Forest’s final decision allowing access to a private inholding in Eagle County called Berlaimont Estates:
On March 13, 2023, Wilderness Workshop and Rocky Mountain Wild filed a lawsuit in Federal Court in Washington D.C., asking for a ruling overturning the White River National Forest’s Record of Decision for the Berlaimont Estates Road Improvement Project. Issued on Friday, March 10, this decision would facilitate a developer’s plan to build 19 new mansions on 680 acres in the middle of the White River National Forest.
“Litigation is always a last resort, but the Forest Service’s decision leaves us no other way to stop this misguided proposal to pave wild public lands. Wilderness Workshop is committed to ensuring the community, wildlife, and wild lands have their day in court,” said Peter Hart, Legal Director at Wilderness Workshop. “This approval not only dismisses the value of these lands for wildlife but also flies in the face of widespread community opposition to this road. Thousands of people have opposed this project in comments, formal objections, and by actively marching in protest.”
“In a time where wildlife populations are declining, habitat connectivity is increasingly fragmented, and the human impact on the environment is undeniable; constructing mega-mansions in the middle of our national forest lands is wrong,” said Matt Sandler, Legal Director at Rocky Mountain Wild, “We are disappointed the Forest Service has made an access decision that will perpetuate this harm.”
For years, a wide range of advocates have raised concerns that the road would cut through some of the last best winter wildlife habitat in the Eagle Valley, reducing deer and elk populations that are already in dramatic decline. The project flies in the face of deep community opposition (over 4,200 community members signed a petition) and the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts totackle the climate crisis.
Conservation groups have been engaged in the fight to stop the Berlaimont Access Road for over 10 years – working with passionate community members to organize opposition, gathering support from elected officials and decision-makers, and engaging in the public process at every point possible. After the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was released in 2020, dozens of engaged community members filed formal objections to the plan and the agency’s analysis. Objections are available for reviewhere. In response to Friday’s decision, community members shared the following statements:
“The situation for local wildlife populations is dire. We can’t keep approving new roads and development in sensitive habitat and expect wildlife to persist. The dramatic population declines we’ve witnessed are a result of those same decisions,” said former district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife and 50-year Eagle Valley resident, Bill Heicher. “In the long term, the paved road, additional developed recreation, new parking lots and the new subdivision will directly destroy important habitat and encourage far deeper penetration into a fragile ecosystem that barely sustains the native species today. In short, the Forest Service is creating a sacrifice zone in Edwards for development and recreation. To most of us, that is unreasonable and unacceptable.”
“We are in a 22-year drought, one of the two driest periods in the last 1,200 years. If a wildfire sparked near a new luxury Berlaimont home, firefighters, such as my own daughter-in-law, would likely be called to the remote site,” said retired biology teacher and longtime Eagle Valley Resident Christie Hochtl. “I would hate to see her lose her life saving a home that should have never been built in the first place. Putting these homes high up on a fire prone hillside, at the end of the road, so far from first responders, is a bad idea. However, fire risk is just one of the issues that makes this project so unreasonable.”
“Perhaps the biggest problem with this proposal, raised by nearly everyone who has engaged, is the impact it will have on the wildlife. Winter habitat is a limiting resource for deer and elk populations. They need it to survive Colorado’s coldest and snowiest months,” said Tim Wolf, a hunter, small business owner, and founder of a local group called “Friends for Wildlife”. “Today the Forest Service gave a greenlight to a new road through critical winter range for a luxury subdivision that’ll require hundreds of vehicle trips every day, year round. It is like a stake through the heart of some of the last best habitat we’ve got in the valley. It is bad policy and bad precedent.”
“The Forest Service completely ignored the public and their own land management plan in making this decision,” said Andy Wiessner, who helped circulate a petition against the project that was signed by more than 4000 local residents. “For the Forest Service to defy nearly unanimous public opposition and allow a paved road in prime deer and elk winter range is beyond troubling and confounding. It reflects a public be damned attitude.”