MINTURN - The U.S. Forest Service Thursday rejected Eagle County's bid for a 4.39-acre parcel along the Eagle River on the south end of Minturn.
After a short competition with another bidder, the county successfully put in the high bid for the parcel - $1.68 million, and committed to 90 percent of that amount, with the town paying the rest. That led to great rejoicing in the Minturn town offices, since the town has been trying to acquire the parcel for several years.
The jubilation Thursday was always tempered by the fact that the Forest Service could reject the bid. Minturn Town Manager Jim White was informed early Thursday evening that had happened.
While the bid was rejected, the Forest Service also hadn't publicly disclosed a price, nor had it put a "reserve" amount on the online auction. That price, apparently, is $2.3 million, according to an email shared by Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney.
Stavney, a vocal advocate of the county's open space program, said Friday that his fellow commissioners, who must approve all spending from the county's open space account, had previously set, but hadn't disclosed, the top price they'd pay for the property. It was $2.3 million, the price set when the land was appraised in 2011.
Stavney said there had been some debate between town and county officials whether or not to just bid that top amount.
"I thought it would be embarrassing if we left ($500,000) on the table if we didn't have to," Stavney said.
The county's top bid in the auction "felt right" to Stavney, who added he was certain the feds wouldn't accept the opening bid of $1.25 million.
So why not just set the price and sell the land?
Kevin Warner, the "conveyance program manager" for the White River National Forest, said research has shown that setting an asking price can sometimes limit bids for a piece of property. Since the Forest Service is under a legal mandate to receive fair market value - or more - for any property it sells, the idea was to try to draw more bidders into the auction process.
With the price apparently now set, the county commissioners and Minturn Town Council have to decide whether or not to agree to spend the money. The commissioners will likely make a decision this week. And while the Minturn Town Council doesn't have a meeting scheduled until Feb. 6, White said he expects council members to talk to county commissioners in the next few days.