Bennet, Boozman Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Encourage Forest Service Community Partnerships

Flexible Partnerships Act Would Address Local Needs and Improve Management

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and John Boozman (R-AR) today introduced legislation to help addresss housing needs and provide new opportunities for growth in rural communities. The Forest Service Flexible Partnerships Act of 2017 would allow local entities to collaborate with the Forest Service to use existing, underutilized facilities or land to address local needs. In return, the Forest Service would be authorized to receive in-kind forms of compensation, such as facility improvements and restoration, to address the growing maintenance backlog, or the shared use of renovated facilities for staff housing or equipment storage.

"The Forest Service is an important partner to counties and towns across Colorado," Bennet said. "This legislation builds on this relationship by enabling the Forest Service to work with local entities to invest in and help solve challenges in rural communities. At the same time, it will provide tools for the Forest Service to more efficiently and effectively manage federal property."

"Allowing the U.S. Forest Service to efficiently use the resources in rural Arkansas will improve its ability to address the needs of communities and encourage private sector participation," Boozman said. "This will provide economic opportunities and growth for rural communities."

Currently, the Forest Service is unable to lease administrative sites, such as housing and storage buildings, or vacant parcels outside of forest boundaries, even if they are unneeded or only partially used. Many such developed sites are sitting vacant or underutilized in mountain communities across the West, including many resort communities where available land is scarce or prohibitively expensive. This measure would expand upon authorities provided by the Forest Service Facility Realignment and Enhancement Act (FSFREA), which expired in 2016, to provide greater flexibility for the Forest Service to lease sites in exchange for construction, maintenance, or the shared use of the renovated facilities. Throughout the process, the Forest Service would be required to consult with local and state officials to identify and propose sites eligible for leasing.

The development of new federal-local partnerships across National Forests in Colorado and elsewhere, will provide opportunities for growth in rural communities and support Forest Service management objectives that will better serve the public.

In a letter of support for the bill, the Summit County Board of County Commissioners wrote, "The Forest Service Flexible Partnerships Act of 2017 would allow us to build new partnerships to solve housing and other needs in communities like ours with limited available land."

"In Eagle County, where affordable employee housing is scarce and land costs are high this creative approach is one that will increase the supply of affordable housing," said Jill Klosterman, Executive Director of the Eagle County Housing and Development Authority.

"The ability to form new partnerships with the intent to work together and solve the affordable housing crisis is incredibly important to the sustainability of Grand County," Grand County Board of County Commissioners wrote in a support letter.