Bair Ranch under easement contract | VailDaily.com
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Bair Ranch under easement contract

Veronica Whitney/Daily Staff Writer

The drive to preserve the 4,300 acres as mostly historic ranchland stalled last year when brothers Craig and Legrande Bair could not agree on whether to put their property under contract for a $5 million conservation easement.

Contract negotiations were completed last week, said Tom Macy of The Conservation Fund, the Boulder-based nonprofit organization in charge of negotiating the easement.

“We have it all under contract. This means we can buy the easement,” Macy said Monday. “We got the two brothers under contract to sell a conservation easement on 4,300 acres.” It took more than two years to negotiate the easement.

The $5 million would also purchase outright more than 500 acres of the ranch along the Eagle River. The 4,300 acres that would be put under the easement would be protected from future development but stay under Craig Bair’s ownership. The riverside 500 acres would be owned by the public, Macy said.

“We will be applying as soon as we can for county funding through the open space tax,” Macy said. “We’re hoping to get the $2 million that county commissioners approved last year for the project.”

In December, because The Conservation Fund didn’t have the Bairs yet under contract, Eagle County commissioners withdrew the $2 million contribution they had approved in the summer toward the deal. The commissioners then referred the project to the Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee. The committee will advise the commissioners on which projects should be funded with the open space property tax passed by voters in 2002, which is expected to collect $3 million annually starting this year.

“The $2 million from the county is instrumental for the deal to go through,” Macy said. “This money also secures the other $3.1 million from federal, state and private money.”

The federal government, through the Bureau of Land Management, has committed $1.5 million. The state lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado Program gave $400,000 and then an additional $600,000 to help purchase the easement.

The Eagle Valley Land Trust will begin raising $600,000 in private donations next week, said Cindy Cohagen, the Land Trust’s executive director.

“This is the good news we’ve been waiting for,” Cohagen said. The Land Trust had been waiting for the brothers to put the property under contract before it started its fund-raising campaign.

“Eagle County will be essential to get this deal to the goal line before the play clock expires,” Cohagen said. “This will be the deal maker or the deal breaker.”

Ron Wolfe, chairman of the Open Space Advisory Committee, said the committee most likely will evaluate the application for the Bair Ranch immediately. County commissioners, who will have the final say on where the opens space tax money goes, still need to decide on an annual schedule to review and vote on open space projects.

“We think Bair Ranch will be handled as an exception because it has been in process for so long,” Wolfe said. “It’s public knowledge and the sponsors and the owner will probably have a deadline.”

Once the committee receives an application for the Bair Ranch, Wolfe said, it could only take about three weeks before it makes a recommendation to the commissioners.

“That’s good news because we could lose federal and state grant money,” Macy said. “Also, in fairness to the Bair family, we have their property tied up under contract. If this is not going to go forward, they need to know sooner rather than later.

“This is a tremendous partnership. It’s a big piece of the Eagle County landscape,” Macy said. “It’s a significant property. Ranchers are still nervous about putting conservation easements on their properties. You have to answer a lot of questions when you’re telling someone they’ll have a government partner. But this is a really good balance.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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