Delays change Bair Ranch deal
Instead the funds for the county’s portion of $5 million to preserve 4,300 acres straddling Eagle and Garfield counties along Glenwood Canyon could end up coming next year from the new open-space tax, which the county’s voters passed a year ago, instead of the county’s general fund, county officials said Tuesday.
In July, the Board of Commissioners in a 2-1 vote approved the contribution to help purchase a conservation easement that would maintain Bair Ranch as a working ranch and open space. Commissioner Tom Stone voted against the pledge.
Since then, the deal, which originally was to close in October, has been delayed at least until the first half of next year, said Tom Macy of the Conservation Fund, which is in charge of the easement.
By that time, Stone said, the Open Space Advisory Committee should be in place and ready to make a decision on where to spend $3 million raised annually by the new open space tax. The tax, which passed by a scant 51 votes countywide in November 2002, adds $14 per $100,000 of assessed valuation on residential properties.
“I already made suggestions to the other two commissioners to send the issue to the Open Space Advisory Committee,” said Stone. “I maintained from the beginning that the open-space committee was the appropriate first step to take in the Bair Ranch purchase instead of taking the money from the general fund.”
Stone said a discussion and possibly a decision on the future of the pledge could come today, when the commissioners meet to discuss open space.
“Following the change of the project’s deadline, it seems appropriate to put it through the Open Space Advisory Committee,” said Commissioner Michael Gallagher, who with Commissioner Arn Menconi approved the contribution in July. Menconi couldn’t be reached Tuesday for this story.
The commissioners are expected to vote on forming the 14-member Open Space Advisory Committee next week.
A conservation easement would keep the Bair Ranch land as open space in perpetuity, barring further development and preserving the land’s agricultural use, as well as keeping it on the county tax rolls.
The county’s contribution would help with the purchase of a $5 million easement on the ranch. The federal government, through the Bureau of Land Management, already has committed $1.5 million. And the lottery-funded Greater Outdoors Colorado Program has pledged $400,000.
Ranch owner Craig Bair said he would use the money to consolidate his ranch by buying his brother’s parcel, which sits in the middle of Craig’s portion of the ranch. But the October deadline to buy his brother out passed with no deal.
“The only reason I considered it the way we did was because it was presented to us as a very urgent situation with deadlines,” Gallagher said Tuesday. Before making further decisions, Gallagher said, he needs to to see what the requirements would be for making changes to the contribution.
“But I’m willing to consider that,” he added.
In their initial offer, conservationists planned to close the deal in two phases. They proposed paying the Bairs $4 million in October and raising the other million over the next year.
But before approving the county’s contribution, Gallagher had a problem with the transaction if it wasn’t completed all at the same time. So an anonymous donor guaranteed Macy the remaining $1.1 million to complete the purchase in October.
Stone now questions why the conservationists can’t close the deal.
“Why didn’t they close at the beginning of October, if somebody had pledged the money already?” Stone said. “All I know is that the county’s money was available. Another problem I have is that there isn’t even a contract yet.”
Macy said the Conservation Fund is still in contract negotiations with Craig Bair.
“We’re in discussions to close in the first half of the year,” Macy said. “When you put this complicated deal together, nothing is for sure. We’ve got a lot of mechanics. We’re in discussions to move forward and I don’t have any reasons to believe that we won’t.”
In the meantime, the Eagle Valley Land Trust, in charge of the local fund-raising for the Bair Ranch conservation easement, has asked Executive Director Cindy Cohagen to concentrate on other transactions that are closer to fruition.
“We are awaiting a contract,” said Joe Macy, president of the Eagle Valley Land Trust Board. “We’ve asked her to work on other projects that have gone under contract.”
He said it isn’t unusual that the Bair Ranch deal has yet to reach a contract yet.
“Every project is different,” he said. “In this case, we have decided that until there is a contract we will concentrate on projects that are going to happen. There are always fears and concerns on every project. And this one isn’t any different, and it’s pretty complicated.”
“Some of these deals take years to accomplish, like the Sylvan Lake State Park that took about four years,” he added.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at email@example.com.