Lawmakers oppose mining ‘land grab’
December 7, 2005
SUMMIT COUNTY – A budget provision that could open thousands of acres of public lands in Summit County to mining and potential real estate speculation and development has provoked opposition from most of Colorado’s congressional delegation.Congressmen Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, and John Salazar, D-Manassa, as well as Republican Sen. Wayne Allard, all oppose the measure.In a letter to their congressional colleagues, Udall and Salazar said the provision would likely result in the “privatization of millions of acres of Federal land and set the stage for a massive fire sale of these lands for bargain-basement prices.” “That would have serious consequences for many areas in the West, affecting water quality, hunting and fishing opportunities, and forever changing our quality of life. The mining provisions should be removed from the bill,” said Udall. “Bartering public lands to balance the budget is bad public policy. Our public lands are a valuable resource to be preserved for future generations. This provision can cause irreparable damage to Colorado’s landscape and local economies,” Salazar said.Allard, who sits on the Senate budget committee, acknowledged that the measure has raised concerns among public interest and private property groups and said that he would oppose it. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to update the 1872 Mining Law, but I do not believe the provision under consideration by the conference committee is the way to achieve this needed reform of the law,” he said.At issue is a move by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., to lift a decade-old moratorium on the patenting of mining claims under the Mining Law of 1872. Under that law, private companies or individuals can essentially convert public land to private ownership if they can prove there is a possibility of profitably mining the land.Before the moratorium was established, local speculators used the patenting process to acquire about 160 acres of land in Keystone Gulch for a few thousand dollars, then proposed development on the land. Thirteen years after it was patented, the same land was appraised at a value of about $3 million when it was traded back to the U.S. Forest Service.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.