A letter from the Jefferson County Commissioners
comments open from August 1 until August 20
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to expand the boundary of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. In an effort to support the Fish and Wildlife Service to preserve more wildlife habitat, Jefferson County has been partnering with private land owners and organizations including Boulder County, the city of Boulder, Colorado State Board of Land Commissioners and the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority. The below letter from the Board of County Commissioners to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was submitted by Jefferson County as part of the Fish and Wildlife Service's public process on evaluating the expansion of the Refuge. Visit www.fws.gov/rockyflats/ to become involved in the process.
July 28, 2011
Dear Mr. Dixon:
Thank you for the opportunity to submit Jefferson County’s comments on the scoping process for the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) Environmental Assessment (EA).
Section 1.7, Adjacent Land Protection, of the 2004 Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Environmental Impact Statement and Comprehensive Conservation Plan (EIS/CCP) identifies the importance of the protection of lands outside the Refuge’s boundary. Specifically, the EIS/CCP states the “protection of the grassland habitat that buffers the Refuge’s western boundary (east of Highway 93) is important for the health of ungulate populations that migrate from the foothills down to the prairie.” Further, it states “degradation of this habitat may deter wildlife from migrating to the Refuge and threaten existing ungulate populations that reside and/or calve within the Refuge” and allows the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to pursue habitat-protection partnerships.
Jefferson County, in collaboration with many entities including Boulder County, the City of Boulder, Colorado State Board of Land Commissioners (State Land Board), the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA), and mineral interest owners, proposes a land exchange (Jefferson Greenway Proposal) that involves the expansion of the Refuge boundary and elimination of private mineral interests in the Refuge. The Jefferson Greenway Proposal is a viable, comprehensive habitat-protection partnership, and should be selected as the EA Preferred Alternative under a Finding of No Significant Impact.
The Jefferson Greenway Proposal would eliminate significant mining encumbrances within the existing Refuge boundaries. The exercise of these existing privately owned mineral rights, particularly surface mining of gravel and other aggregate material, on the Refuge would have an adverse impact on the management of the Refuge. In fact, Section 3177(e)(2) of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Act of 2001 (Act) would not be met if certain mineral rights are exercised. Acquisition of these mineral rights was so important to the Federal Government, that the 2006 Defense Reauthorization Act authorized $10 million to purchase essential mineral rights on the Refuge. Jefferson County and its partners have worked with the owners of the essential mineral rights and will be able to protect the Refuge by funding the cancellation of the majority of these rights.
The Jefferson Greenway Proposal would also expand the Refuge to include Rocky Flats Section 16 (Section 16), which is home to rare and endangered plant and wildlife species. For example, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program notes that the bald eagle and Ottoe skipper butterfly make use of Section 16. The Woman Creek drainage on the north end of Section 16 serves as habitat for the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse and provides a wildlife movement corridor. A five year-study conducted by ESCO Associates found a rare example of xeric tallgrass prairie on Section 16 that contains more than 50 native species. In general, grasslands are regarded as among the most imperiled ecosystems in North America.
As shown on the map, habitat protection in this region is a major focus area through Jefferson County Open Space’s Heritage Conservation Program. Acquisition and preservation of Section 16 will accomplish Jefferson County’s goals as well as USFWS goals of enabling wildlife to migrate to and from the Refuge, and sustaining wildlife populations at the interface of mountains and prairies on Colorado's Front Range. It will help ensure open space connectivity from Standley Lake to the Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
The Jefferson Greenway Proposal is a viable, well-analyzed, and advantageous proposal. It represents over $17 million of property interests conveyed to the United States or removed as encumbrances. The Jefferson Greenway Proposal elements and accomplishments to date are summarized as follows:
1. Jefferson County acquires the McKay clay, gravel, and rock mineral interests in approximately 128 acres of Section 9 within the Refuge’s existing boundaries for $2,800,000. The County conveys these mineral interests to the United States.
2. Lafarge West, Inc. (Lafarge) is awarded $3,316,000 of Natural Resource Damages grant funds for the purchase and cancellation of its leased mining interests in portions of the Refuge’s existing boundaries. Jefferson County, Boulder County, and the City of Boulder have formally supported Lafarge’s proposal and on July 19, 2011, the Trustee Council for Natural Resources at Rocky Flats adopted a resolution approving the Lafarge proposal. $2,566,000 of the grant is contingent on the County’s acquisition of the McKay minerals and their subsequent transfer to the United States.
3. The State Board of Land conveys 617 surface acres of Section 16 to the United States for incorporation in the Refuge. The sale price of $9,437,000 would be paid by Jefferson County, Boulder County, the City of Boulder and other contributors. Jefferson County, Boulder County and the City of Boulder have executed an Intergovernmental Agreement dated May 3, 2011, under which Jefferson County has committed $5,100,000, Boulder County $2,000,000, and the City of Boulder $2,000,000 towards transfer of Section 16 to the United States. These partners have been working diligently to secure the remaining funds for the Section 16 surface and other property interests. For example, the City of Arvada has agreed to commit $300,000. Jefferson County is optimistic that within a short period of time the remaining funds will be secured.
4. The State Land Board conveys the Section 16 mineral estate to the United States in exchange for mineral interests to be determined. On June 3, 2011, the State Land Board initiated the disposal of the 617 surface acres of Section 16 to the United States and the exchange of the Section 16 mineral estate with the United States.
5. The Section 16 sand and gravel lease held by Lafarge is acquired and cancelled. Lafarge has offered to sell its rights on Section 16 to Jefferson County, Boulder County, and the City of Boulder for a reduced price.
6. The Section 16 McKay recreation and grazing leases are cancelled. Once Section 16 is conveyed to the United States, a grazing permit is issued to McKay.
7. The JPPHA obtains title to the 300 foot wide transportation corridor (Transportation Corridor) along the eastern edge of the Refuge. The JPPHA has met the conditions of the Act, including the demonstration of available funding for the parkway and its inclusion on the Fiscally-Constrained 2035 Regional Transportation Plan adopted by the Denver Regional Council of Governments, has submitted an application for the divestment of the Transportation Corridor, and has authorized the expenditure of $2.8 million for the Transportation Corridor.
Please note that many financial contributions to the Jefferson Greenway Proposal are contingent on JPPHA receiving the Transportation Corridor.
Given the substantial due diligence and conservation leadership that Jefferson County and its partners have demonstrated relative to the Jefferson Greenway Proposal, the Board of County Commissioners believes this is a viable proposal and has direct benefit to the Refuge, meeting and enhancing the purposes for which the Refuge was established: to restore and preserve native ecosystems; provide habitat for and population management of native plants and migratory and resident wildlife; conserve threatened and endangered species; and provide opportunities for compatible scientific research.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the scoping process for the expansion of the Refuge.
BOARD OF JEFFERSON COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
Faye Griffin, Chairman