Summit Colorado - GONE!

     Red Mountain heritage bulldozed Related story: Owner Baumgartner plans to start mining gold next year September 1, 2002 By Jim Greenhill Herald Staff Writer Chris George, shown here at the Kohler/Longfellow mine site on Friday, is trying to stop Frank Baumgartner from bulldozing any more buildings. Baumgartner razed the old boardinghouse and mine managerís house at the Kohler/Longfellow mine last Sunday. Chris George walks amid the rubble of the old boardinghouse at the Kohler/Longfellow mine on Red Mountain Pass on Friday. A sign advertises lots for sale by Frank Baumgartner of Castle Rock at the top of Red Mountain Pass. Chris George and his son, Chris Jr., drag wood into the Silver Lodge mill just south of the top of Red Mountain Pass on Friday. The Georges carry the wood to mine sites to stabilize the old buildings that are falling down, and are angry that Baumgartner tore down historic buildings at the Kohler/Longfellow mine last Sunday. Some of the color drained from Chris Georgeís face when he saw what had happened to two century-old mining buildings on Red Mountain Pass. "Boy, you just look like you just lost a friend," Georgeís wife, Donna George, told him. "The Kohler/Longfellow Boardinghouse roof was lying off to one side," George said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "At first I thought it was a natural event." But then George, driving south on U.S. Highway 550, caught a glimpse of a second building. "The mine office had also been destroyed," he said. "I was devastated." George knew what had happened to the historic mining buildings: Frank Baumgartner had happened to them. Baumgartner, a 73-year-old oilman from Castle Rock, has owned 1,600 acres of mining claims on Red Mountain Pass since 1956. A staunch believer in private property rights, Baumgartner is unrepentant about ordering last weekendís bulldozing of two of the old wooden structures on his land. "Itís my property," Baumgartner said in a telephone interview Thursday. "I donít know why everybodyís so excited. Itís my property. They donít have any jurisdiction over it. "One of the reasons I took it down was just the liability Ė that was what is known as an attractive nuisance. I didnít want somebody to get hurt and sue me. I finally got around to it." People in Ouray and San Juan counties are outraged about the latest battle in a long war over property rights between Baumgartner, the county governments and federal agencies. About 1,300 acres of Baumgartnerís land is in Ouray County, and about 300 acres Ė including the property where the demolished structures stood Ė is in San Juan County. "It is a sad day for San Juan County and the whole country," San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay said in an e-mail Thursday. U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., and U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R.-Colo., have joined a chorus of people condemning the destruction of the buildings. McInnis has helped secure funding for the Red Mountain Task Force, and Allard said he hopes someone will buy Baumgartnerís land to protect it from further destruction. The structures are within the Red Mountain Mining District, an area between Silverton and Ouray that both the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Colorado Preservation Inc. list as one of the most endangered places in the United States. The structures Baumgartner destroyed had been designated historic landmarks. The Red Mountain Task Force, a preservation group, has spent $3 million to protect 3,042 acres in the district and has an additional $11.6 million for future purchases. "We expect in the near future to have spent a total of $14.6 million," said Ann Hoffman, director of the Ouray County Historical Museum. "We expect that that will be close to 7,000 acres. Our goal is 11,000 acres." The task force has an additional $106,000 for building stabilization to protect the historic structures. "We expect to get a lot more money in the next year or so on that," Hoffman said. Paul Sunderland, a Grand Junction-based attorney who represents San Juan County, isnít sure Baumgartner owns the buildings he destroyed. "Weíre attempting to determine whether the buildings he tore down were even his, because they may have been within the Colorado Department of Transportation right of way," Sunderland said Thursday. Meanwhile, acting on orders from San Juan Countyís commissioners, Sunderland has taken a series of actions against Baumgartner. On Thursday, Sunderland sent Baumgartner a notice that he has violated the San Juan County land-use code by failing to get a permit to demolish the buildings. The penalty for violating the code is a $100 fine and up to 10 days in jail. Under the code, Baumgartner has 30 days to make right the unpermitted work Ė which means rebuilding the structures. That might be tough. "They took a front-end loader and kind of smashed right through the middle of the buildings, then they dozed it open like you might an orange," said George, who was the first to report the damage. "Theyíre beyond repair." George is qualified to know. George, who has lived on Red Mountain Pass for many years and runs the St. Paul Lodge in the winter, worked to stabilize the buildings in 1999, with Baumgartnerís consent. The $7,100 project was paid for by the Colorado Historical Society. If any more bulldozers show up to demolish historic structures on Baumgartnerís land, "We would probably have the county sheriff arrest the person and cite them," Sunderland said. San Juan County also will seek civil penalties, Sunderland said. Those could include $250 damages and a court order to stop any further land-use code violations and to fix the damage. Baumgartner then would face more fines for each day he failed to comply with the order. But Baumgartner, who said heís taking a stand so that his children and grandchildren will be able to do what they wish with their private property, hardly listens to the threats. "I donít even pay attention anymore," he said. "Iím criticized for everything I do up there. "All weíre doing is just becoming more socialist in this country where these bureaucrats just keep telling everyone what to do." Baumgartner said that by failing to pay the $9.6 million that he is asking for his property, the federal government has told him that his land is worthless. "They never made any offer," he said. "The property isnít worth anything as far as they say. And if it isnít worth anything, Iím going to take those buildings down." Baumgartner said the federal government spent $500,000 on a viewing area that looks over his property, complete with historic markers. San Juan and Ouray counties want Jeep tours to be allowed to run through his property. So his land must have value, he said. "They want to buy it," he said. "But they donít want to pay anything for it. "I might as well just cut all the timber down and push all the buildings down. Itís no big deal to me." Baumgartner has plans for his property. "Selling house lots," he said. "Iíve got three sold and another four that I think weíll close on before the end of the year. "Iím going to put a house up there next year." But Sunderland said Baumgartner has torpedoed his own building plans. "The land-use code gives us the right to put a hold for up to two years on any building-permit applications he might make, and weíre doing that," he said. Meanwhile, Baumgartner said he had the buildings knocked down because he is fed up with years of quarreling with local and federal government bureaucrats. "Iím trying to protect my property rights," he said. "Everybodyís trampling on me up there, and Iím not going to take it anymore. It just gets tiresome after a while. Thatís all." George said he believes in private-property rights, but also knows that everyone is simply a short-term guardian of the land. "What Frank (Baumgartner) is angling to do is to enhance the value of his land by this kind of blackmail," George said. "He would like to have the state give him $10,000 an acre for something that was practically given away originally. "It was taken from the Utes, given away for just a few hundred dollars (as mining claims) and now a guy wants a few million. "Itís really, really terrible. I donít know what kind of person would tear down two pieces of our mining heritage, considering so little of it is left." Reach Staff Writer Jim Greenhill at [email protected]