County considers conservation competition
EAGLE COUNTY – A proposal by Eagle County to create a nonprofit conservation agency is raising questions from the already established nonprofit land trust in the Eagle Valley.The county commissioners were to vote on formation of the new “Eagle County Land Trust” at their meeting, Tuesday. The county also had filed incorporation papers with the Secretary of State’s office on Nov. 17.But when representatives of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, which was organized in 1982, voiced concerns Tuesday about competing conservation agencies with the same mission, the commissioners agreed to delay a decision until Jan. 4. In the meantime, county leaders and Land Trust officials will discuss the proposal.County Commissioner Tom Stone said he had been contemplating formation of a county land trust for about a year. Other Colorado counties have government and private land trusts, Stone said.
Recently, the county was offered open space as part of the Red Sky Ranch development at Wolcott, he said. County officials couldn’t quite figure out to protect that open space from any future development. Cindy Cohagen, executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, and board member Tom Edwards urged the commissioners to postpone creating their own land trust.”We are interested in working collaboratively prior to establishing competing entities with the same mission,” said Cohagen. The Eagle Valley Land Trust has, over the past 20 years, helped to purchase development rights on – and therefore preserve – about 14 square miles of land in Eagle County. The private, nonprofit organization is run by a volunteer board of citizen directors.The Eagle Valley Land Trust spearhead a campaign that resulted in voter approval two years ago of an open-space tax capable of raising about $3 million, annually.Stone said two conservation agencies could work in tandem.
“The intent is not to overshadow or take away from the Eagle Valley Land Trust,” he said. “It provides us with yet another tool to accomplish the same goal.”County Commissioner Michael Gallagher said a county land trust would “absolutely” duplicate the purpose of the Eagle Valley Land Trust. Still, he said, the move to establish a county land trust was prompted by the prospect of more open space acquisitions. “The county should control what the county spends money on,” said Gallagher. He also cited concerns about the “relative fragility” of the existing land trust, which he noted was run by “dedicated” volunteers.”It could go away tomorrow … this (county land trust) is more stable,” he said.Commissioner Arn Menconi, who said he had not “fully embraced” the concept of a county land trust, said management and maintenance becomes an financial issue when the county acquires open space,.
He suggested that a second nonprofit land trust could be used if open space was available and the Eagle Valley Land Trust wasn’t interested. “There is some reasonability to having something like this in place, and to explore its purpose,” he said.When questioned after the meeting, Cohagen said that the Eagle Valley Land Trust is financially stable. The group was recently named “nonprofit organization of the year” in local awards. When land is preserved by the Eagle Valley Land Trust, the contracts stipulate if the organization goes out of business, the landowner can select another not-for-profit land trust to hold the development rights.