In mid-July, a billboard suddenly appeared on the boundary of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, advertising three 40-acre lots at the lip of the 2,000-foot-deep canyon (see page 16). The price? $190,000 each. It's the latest attempt by real estate developer Tom Chapman to cash in on private land inside protected federal land. But now, most of Colorado's congressional delegation is calling for a get-tough policy toward Chapman (HCN, 7/5/99).
"I say, don't buy it.
Let's play his bluff," says Colorado Republican Rep. Scott McInnis.
"He wants the Forest Service to panic. He wants the Park Service to
panic. He wants everyone to panic so they'll buy him out."
"I have no doubt that if we buy him out, he
would turn around and buy another inholding," adds Sean Conway,
press secretary to Colorado Republican Sen. Wayne
Despite the current outcry, the Park
Service says it wants to buy the privately owned lots. But the
agency may come up short: Its preliminary estimates place the
fair-market value of the lots at around $1,000 an acre. TDX, the
company Chapman is involved with, is asking $4,750 an acre. To
avoid paying that asking price, Colorado Rep. Mark Udall, a
Democrat, introduced an amendment to the bill upgrading the
monument to a national park. The amendment would have condemned the
lots and paid TDX market value, but the attempt was blocked on
Superintendent Sheridan Steele says a land swap is unlikely because
the Park Service has little land to trade, and paying more than
market value would require an act of Congress. "All we can do is
offer fair market value," says Steele. "We can't under law offer
anything more than that."
Chapman did not return
phone calls, and his lawyer, Aaron Clay of Delta, Colo., refused to
answer any questions.