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Know the West

Politicians talk tough

  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 Allard.

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 procedural technicalities.

Black Canyon 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.

* Tim Westby