Friday, October 25, 2013

Land Trust eyes funds for easement

Requests $192,000 from Land, Water and Wildlife Levy coffers

Express Staff Writer

    The nonprofit Wood River Land Trust asked Blaine County commissioners on Tuesday for $192,000 to support a conservation easement on an 80-acre ranch south of Bellevue.
    The Land Trust plans to establish a conservation easement on the Weston/Molyneaux Ranch—located on U.S. Highway 20 about a half-mile west of its intersection with state Highway 75—with funds from the Land, Water and Wildlife Levy Program. The program is funded by a now-expired two-year levy to support conservation projects in the county.

All lands are different.
It’s the resources that
are important.”
Scott Boettger
Wood River Land Trust

    The Land Trust is offering four transferable development rights from its Church Farms property as a match for the deal. Land Trust representative Keri York said the project would protect fish and wildlife, the scenic view corridor and prime farmland. She said it would also protect open space.
    The proposal went through the pre-application process with the Levy Advisory Board before the formal presentation Tuesday to commissioners. The Levy Advisory Board initially indicated it might reject the application, over concern that the plan asked for 100 percent of the cost. The LAB and Board of Commissioners also expressed unease at the property’s price tag, and were unsure of the proposed acquisition of the four TDR parcels. Additionally, the appraisal of the TDR land was in question, leaving the board asking more questions as to its value.
    The Levy Advisory Board had pointed out in its review of the Land Trust’s proposal that the cost per acre was high in comparison to other projects being considered. Scott Boettger, executive director of the Land Trust, said, “All lands are different. It’s the resources that are important.”
    Toward the end of the discussion, Commissioner Larry Schoen expressed favor for the project. He said the easement would be “making use of the tools that are available to landowners to take advantage of TDRs and the Land, Water and Wildlife Program.” Presently, $2.9 million is still available for conservation projects through the levy.
    “I am comfortable with the donation of TDRs, and I am not hung up on the lack of funds donated,” Schoen said before asking the other commissioners for approval.
    Ultimately, the Board of Commissioners was not able to come to a decision. If the Land Trust’s proposal achieves conceptual approval, the project will be required to go back through the Levy Advisory Board approval process. The discussion will be revisited by commissioners no earlier than Nov. 19.

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