Open space committee ready for business | VailDaily.com

Open space committee ready for business

Kathy Heicher/Eagle Correspondent

Vail Daily/ Melinda Kruse

Meeting for the first time last week, the 14-member board set an ambitious schedule. They’ll be holding a Sunday afternoon workshop on Jan. 11 to discuss criteria that will be used to evaluate and prioritize lands for potential acquisition and preservation, and will forward a recommendation to the county commissioners shortly after.

The county’s new open space tax, narrowly approved by voters in November of 2002, is expected to generate about $3 million annually. The tax marks the first time the county has had a dedicated revenue source for open space conservation. The citizen committee operates in an advisory capacity only, with the county commissioners making the final decisions on open space spending.

Cliff Simonton, environmental policy planner for the county’s Community Development Department, said committee members were enthusiastic and eager to get to work. Simonton is the county staffer who will be working on open space projects.

“Our (committee’s) first challenge will be to get the criteria and processes established and make sure they are in line with what the county commissioners envision,” said Simonton, “We hope this becomes a very simple, straightforward, easy-to-understand process.”

The committee consists of 14 members, including representatives from each town in the county, as well as two citizens from each county commissioner’s district and one from the Edwards area. Committee members representing towns are Tom Edwards (Gypsum), Ron Wolfe (Avon) Darell Wegert (Minturn), Andy Wiessner (Vail), Anne Freedman (Basalt) and Ramon Montoya (Red Cliff). Gil Marchand of the Arrowhead Metro District is representing the Edwards area; Christie Banowetz and Bonnie Vogt are the appointees from Commission District 1; Dick Bourret and Sandra Donnelly from District 2; and Mike Bair and Susan Albertson from District 3.

Simonton said the committee members represent a variety of interests and communities in the county. The appointees include town council members, business people, environmentalists and finance experts as well as a variety of interests and ages.

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“We have a huge wealth of experience and background here,” Simonton said.

Wiessner, who also serves on the Eagle Valley Land Trust board, said, “I think it will be a very good committee, and nice people to work with… this committee will filter projects, and make recommendations to the commissioners.”

Operating costs for the open-space program include about $42,000 for staff support, materials, supplies and operating expenses.

In accordance with state law, 3 percent of the collected open space tax – about $89,000 if the anticipated revenues are collected – will go to the County Treasurer’s office to cover related assessor and treasurer’s operation costs.

The resolution establishes a flexible open-space program that uses a variety of land-preservation techniques, ranging from donations of land, the purchase of conservation easements to bar development and outright land purchases.

The county is defining open space as primarily undeveloped land that be wildlife habitat, working ranches, scenic landscapes, river areas and public access to rivers, streams or other lands. Locally, open space acquisitions often involve partnerships between government entities or public-private ventures.

The county generally favors leveraging its funds with contributions from other entities. For example, the yet-to-be completed Bair Ranch conservation deal involves funds from the county, the private nonprofit Eagle Valley Land Trust, federal funds and money from the Great Outdoors Colorado program.

This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.