By Michael Howell
The County Commissioners approved granting $35,000 from the county’s Open Lands Bond to help fund the placement of a conservation easement on about 22 acres of riverfront property in Hamilton. The 22-acre property was recently purchased by the Bitterroot Land Trust with plans to place a conservation easement on the property and then turn it over to the City of Hamilton for management as a public park.
According to the Director of the Bitterroot Land Trust, Gavin Ricklefs the trust succeeded in raising about $175,000 of the $230,000 purchase price through state Fish and Wildlife Trust monies and many private donations. Still short of the total cost, the trust borrowed $65,000 from the state’s Resources Legacy Fund to seal the deal.
Ricklefs described the project as being unique in the fact that it was aimed at providing public access to the property in the end. Most conservation easements do not involve public access and in those that do it is generally restricted to a trail or pathway.
The commissioners expressed some concern about the public access part of the project and the fact that the conservation easement is being decided when the ultimate ownership of the property by the City of Hamilton had not been approved. Members of the public raised questions about the effect on city and county taxes and the use of taxpayer money for the project. Neighbors had concerns about parking. The Commissioners also expressed grave concerns about any negative impact on the Corvallis Canal Company which has a headgate and ditch on the property.
Bob Popham, representing the Corvallis Canal Company, said that his understanding was that the general idea of the project had been agreed to. He said the canal company will get an easement for their headgate and ditch and the city would take on liability for the property covering the public use.
“We are satisfied,” said Popham.
It was pointed out that the money the commissioners were being asked to commit does not come from the general fund but from the bond passed by the voters specifically to fund conservation easements like this for the preservation of open space.
John Ormiston said that the Land Trust was trying to honor the will of two generations of Tabers, who owned the property, and always wanted the public to be able to use it. He said the aim was to pass a legacy on to the public.
To alleviate their concerns about the ultimate ownership of the property, the commission’s civil attorney Dan Browder advised the board to set a timeline for the transfer of the property to the City and condition the release of the funds upon city ownership. Browder cautioned the board about trying to place conditions on the deal that would determine future management details such as parking. He said the city would have to develop a management plan for the park as part of the incorporation of the land into its park system.
Although a few commissioners still expressed uneasiness at the unusual nature of the deal, with Commissioner Greg Chilcott calling it “a little nebulous,” they were ultimately satisfied that the conditions set would meet their concerns and unanimously
approved the use of $35,000 in Open Lands Bond money.