Nearly 200 people have signed letters opposing the transfer of federal property in northeast Mesa to a private owner, an opponent of the plan said Tuesday.
Matt Winkler, a homeowner who is leading the opposition, said he will send copies by week’s end to several Arizona congressman and the governor.
Winkler lives in Red Mountain Ranch, one of the city’s wealthiest communities.
To the north of the community is a 200-acre parcel owned by the federal government.
Red Mountain Mining, a private company, has mined decorative rock from the parcel for years.
Dale Longbrake, who owns the company, wants to build homes on the land when the mining stops sometime around 2009. He has asked the federal government to trade the parcel he is mining for a 200-acre ranch he recently bought in central Arizona.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the parcel Longbrake is mining, is weighing the idea. Longbrake’s ranch is one of the few remaining pieces of private property in the Agua Fria National Monument. BLM oversees the monument, and would like to make the ranch part of it.
However, Winkler is against any development on the federal land near Mesa. The letters he is having homeowners sign state that the land should be returned to its natural desert state.
"Nature is very important to our health and our community, and this piece of BLM property gives us an opportunity to take a quick walk, a long hike or a mountain ride and enjoy the Arizona that everyone would like to experience," the letters state.
Winkler and about 25 other homeowners have formed a group called Just Say No!
Art Wurtz, Tonto National Forest district ranger, said Tuesday he opposes the trade because it could trigger others.
Matt Specht, press secretary for Rep. Jeff Flake, R. Ariz., said Flake’s office in Washington has received a lot of letters against the trade. Flake hasn’t formed an opinion because the process has just begun, Specht said. The federal land in Mesa is in Flake’s congressional district.
Longbrake and BLM’s Phoenix field office did not return calls Tuesday.