That is one reason a national watchdog group devoted to overhauling the way the government trades public land is lookingaskance.The Western Lands Project in Seattle is questioning the transparency and is troubled that Koch included land in two states(Colorado and Utah) and land involving two federal management agencies. Those factors guarantee the trade must bedone through legislation."The thing that bothers me about this bill it appears to me this whole thing was engineered to keep it out of the normalpublic process. All of our questions could have been answered if this hadn't been done legislatively," Western Landsdirector Janine Blaeloch said.Salazar spokesman Eric Wortman contends questions have been answered. And he pointed out that the proposal, theCentral Rockies Land Exchange and National Park System Enhancement Act of 2010, has a long way to go before it can bepassed.Wortman said his boss introduced the bill only after he was approached by Gunnison County officials to do so.Gunnison officials supported the effort after Koch's representatives came to town to present the potential trade. Having avisitor center along Blue Mesa Reservoir, as the Park Service plans if the swap goes through, would boost tourism in thatcounty.Goldstein said the public has already had plenty of opportunity to comment while the issue was on the agendas of theGunnison County commissioners, the Gunnison City Council and Gunnison Trails Commission.Trails Commission chairwoman Jolene Fending said she agreed to support the swap because it comes with assurances thattrails will be upgraded. But the method bothers her."I prefer the good old public process with hearings," she said.About 100 land trades have been carried out in Western states since 2003. Fewer than 20 percent of those have beendone through legislation, which is not the favored method of land managers."We can offer our input on these, but at the end of the day we do what Congress tells us," said Steve Renal, a landsprogram specialist with the Forest Service.Koch, 69, rarely is seen around Gunnison and Delta counties, but he is considered a formidable figure there. Between hisranch and his energy businesses, he employs about 400 people and is a big donor to local causes.He is the founder, owner and president of the Palm Beach, Fla.-based Oxbow Group. Oxbow owns the West Elk Coal Minedown the road from Koch's 5,000-acre ranch. Koch is also the owner of Gunnison Energy Corp., a company involved in gasdrilling and transport in Gunnison, Mesa and Delta counties.Goldstein said Koch is only interested in having a much larger ranch in Gunnison County so he can hunt and ride horsesand have a place to put his extensive collection of Western memorabilia. He has had enough of people trespassing fromthe quarter-mile-wide strip of public land that runs through the ranch. The trade would fix that.Andy Weissmann with the Western Land Group, a land-exchange consulting firm that is bordering the swap, said the publicshould be as happy with the trade as Koch is: The National Parks system will be getting two key pieces of land in theexchange.Koch chose those pieces to use in a trade for the land near his ranch after consulting with public land managers.
Option on monument
Koch doesn't quite own all the property he proposes to trade. He holds a $300,000 option to purchase a piece in theDinosaur National Monument in Utah that includes the homesite of the monument founder. If the swap goes through, Kochwould exercise that option, then turn it over to the Park Service.Koch's other piece of land for trade is on the south side of Blue Mesa Reservoir where the Park Service wants to build avisitor center. Koch paid $2.7 million for that land.