Bair Ranch becomes more complex
The road to protect open space can be a rocky one, environmentalists say. And that seems to be the case with the preservation of 4,300 acres at the Bair Ranch in Glenwood Canyon.
“Things don’t happen overnight,” said Tom Macy of the Conservation Fund, which is in charge of the preservation deal, called a conservation easement. “(The owners of the ranch) are doing something that’s going to be permanent.”
The ranch is owned by brothers Craig and Legrande Bair.
Although the money was made available this summer to purchase the $5 million conservation easement on the ranch that straddles Eagle and Garfield counties, there’s still no contract between the Bair brothers and the Conservation Fund.
Conservationists say that’s not very unusual, but in the Bair Ranch case it has delayed the process and it could change a deal aimed at preserving the ranch land from future development.
In October, a deadline came and went without a closing between Craig Bair and his brother Legrande. Craig was going to buy his brother out with money from the conservation easement.
Meanwhile, the Eagle Valley Land Trust has postponed its attempts to raise $1.1 million to put toward the easement because there’s no contract. The deal, which originally was going to close in October, has been delayed possibly until the first half of next year, said Macy.
In the meantime, County Commissioner Tom Stone said he received a call from Legrande Bair offering to sell 1,000 acres to Eagle County. Stone couldn’t specify how much Legrande Bair wanted for his land.
“(Legrande Bair) let me know that the property is on the market, though it isn’t listed,” Stone said. “I think we should consider it seriously, keep it as open space.”
The potential purchase would need to be reviewed by the Open Space Advisory Committee, the members of which the commissioners will formally appoint on Tuesday.
County Administrator Jack Ingstad said the County Attorney’s Office had been in contact with Legrande Bair’s attorney, but he didn’t know what the discussions had been.
A timing problem
If one of the brothers gets out of the deal, Macy said, there won’t be an easement.
“We’re working on a contract that includes both brothers. I don’t know how serious Legrande Bair is,” Macy said. “And we’re working on it very diligently.”
Macy, who on Friday was on his way to Utah to meet with Legrande Bair and his attorney to discuss the easement contract, said he will soon know if, and when, a contract will be signed.
Neither Craig nor Legrande Bair returned calls.
In their initial offer, conservationists planned to close the deal in two phases –pay the Bairs $4 million in October and raise the remaining $1 million next year.
But before approving a $2 million contribution in July, Commissioner Michael Gallagher had a problem with the transaction not being completed all at the same time. So an anonymous donor guaranteed Macy the $1.1 million remaining in the form of a bridge loan to complete the purchase in October.
Macy said, however, the Eagle Valley Land Trust felt it wasn’t prudent to go into debt for an easement.
“They collectively decided that it wasn’t a good idea to borrow money against an easement that gives you no collateral,” Macy said. “That has hurt the timing of the deal.”
Because there’s no contract yet, said Joe Macy of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, the land trust decided to postpone raising funds and concentrate on other projects closer to fruition.
Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi said he supports preserving the ranch either by partnering with conservationists or through a direct purchase.
Because of a delay in closing the deal, money to preserve the Bair Ranch as open space could end up coming next year from the Open Space Tax instead of the county’s general fund.
In July, Eagle County commissioners approved a $2 million contribution toward the $5 million conservation easement.
“My approval of the contribution was based on facts heard at that hearing,” said Gallagher. “But deadlines have come and gone.”
Changes in the funding
County Attorney Diane Mauriello said the county could amend the previous decision.
“But the county can’t pre-allocate money from the Open Space Tax that will be collected next year,” she said.
The Open Space Advisory Committee will review projects and make recommendations to the commissioners who will give final approval. Although the committee will first meet in mid-December, it won’t make decisions on a project until they come up with rules, regulations and criteria for prioritizing projects, said Walter Mathews, deputy county attorney. The deadline for that is March 17.
“If there is no contract I see no reason to continue tying up general fund money,” Gallagher said.
Menconi, who with Gallagher approved the $2 million contribution, also said it would be reasonable to pass the project to the Open Space Advisory Committee if there won’t be a closing this year.
“I hope we don’t lose a great opportunity to partner to create a legacy for the state of Colorado,” Menconi said.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is the federal grant in danger?
Although there’s no legal deadline for the $1.5 million federal grant that accounts for a large part of the purchase of a $5 million conservation easement on Bair Ranch, the money could be reassigned to another project that is closer to reality, said John Beck of the Bureau of Land Management.
The federal government, through the Bureau of Land Management, committed the funds that will join $400,000 from the lottery-funded Greater Outdoors Colorado Program and $2 million pledged by Eagle County.
“The longer the money sits unspent, there’s a danger to spend it on another project that needs it immediately,” Beck said. “There’s always projects waiting. Because times are tough and budgets tight, any unobligated money could be spent somewhere else.”
The grant money could even be spent outside the state, Beck said.
“We are trying to put pressure stating the urgency to spend the money, but we haven’t given any specific deadlines,” Beck added. “But if it drags too long, the BLM then needs to decide where to use the money.”
Open Space Advisory Committee
The Eagle County Board of County Commissioners has appointed the members of a committee that will review projects eligible to receive funding from the county’s Open Space Tax. The commissioners will take a final vote on the proposed members Tuesday. The members are:
Vail: Andy Weissner, member of the Eagle Valley Land Trust board.
Eagle: Nicola Ripley
Minturn: Darell Egert
Avon: Ron Wolfe, town councilman.
Basalt: Anne Freedman
Gypsum: Tom Edwards
Tom Stone’s district: Mike Bair; Susan Albertson
Arn Menconi’s district: Dick Bourret; Sandra Donnelly – member of the Eagle Valley Land Trust board.
Michael Gallagher’s district: Christie Banowetz; Bonnie Vogt
Unincoprorated Eagle County: Gil Marchand
Red Cliff didn’t give a nomination.