By Jessica Goad
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” A story in yesterday’s Denver Post about fossil fuel magnate William (Bill) Koch’s construction of a private old western town in Colorado provides yet another example of this truism.
Koch has built for himself:
… an unpopulated, faux Western town that might boggle the mind of anyone who ever had a playhouse. Its full-size buildings come with polished brass and carved-mahogany details and are fronted with board sidewalks and underpinned by a water-treatment system. A locked gate with guards screens who comes and goes….
Koch’s project manager has told county officials that the enclave in the middle of the 6,400-acre Bear Ranch won’t ever be open to the public. It is simply for Koch’s amusement and for that of his family and friends.
Koch is building the town on his ranch in Gunnison County, Colorado. But he has proposed highly controversial land exchanges that would swap tracts of public lands for areas that he has the rights to in order to expand his ranch and provide more privacy for the old western town.
The “Central Rockies Land Exchange” would give Koch control of 1,800 acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management in exchange for various other parcels that he owns in Colorado. Local opponents say that the land exchange will deny access to public lands where they hunt and hike. Koch has hired a public relations firm to sell local residents on the idea.
Bill Koch is brother to David and Charles Koch, conservative heavy hitters who are virulently anti-climate science and have bankrolled right-wing groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Heritage Foundation.
While Bill Koch maintains some distance from the political zeal of his brothers, he has given at least $2 million to Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super-PAC. He is also the founder and CEO of the Oxbow Corporation, which has interests in various energy ventures including coal, natural gas, and petroleum coke. Forbes has listed his value at $4 billion.
Koch’s western town that will be entirely for his own benefit brings into relief the remarkable contrast between public and private lands and the value of places that belong to all Americans, not just the wealthy few.
Koch isn’t the only one who is interested in privatizing our public lands. Indeed, Republican Vice Presidential candidate and Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget contains a provision to sell millions of acres of public lands to the highest bidder. The language is largely based on Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s (R-UT) bill that would get rid of three million acres of public lands without clarifying how taxpayers would receive a fair return for them. And Florida Representative Cliff Stearns (R), who just lost his primary election, called for selling off national parks last March.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.