Open space money sought for Bair Ranch
Conservationists say that as soon as next week they’ll apply for county open space tax funds to block develop on Bair Ranch, which straddles Eagle and Garfield counties.
The county’s newly-formed Open Space Advisory Committee declared itself “open for business” last week when the Eagle County Board of Commissioners approved the standards that will be used to judge preservation proposals. The committee will make recommendations to the commissions on projects that should receive funds from the county’s open space tax, which is expected to generate $3 million a year.
“We’ll be seeking the $2 million that was originally approved last year,” said Christine Quinlan of The Conservation Fund, the organization in charge of buying a $5 million “conservation easement” that would bar development on 4,300 acres of Bair Ranch.
In July, Eagle County Commissioners Arn Menconi and Michael Gallagher approved a $2 million contribution towards the deal, but that money was taken back when negotiations lagged between The Conservation Fund and Craig and Legrande Bair, the owners of the ranch. That contract was finally signed in January.
“We’re thrilled that the committee is progressing with their work to look at projects. County staff has invited us to begin the application process,” Quinlan said.
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Committee chairman Ron Wolfe said he expects to the Bair Ranch project will move quickly through the committee’s review process.
The Bair Ranch project, which has been in the works for more than two years already complies with several of the committee’s standards, including one that calls for local, regional and federal agencies to cooperate on preservation projects, Wolfe said.
Because of all that, Wolfe said he foresees the committee would send the Bair Ranch application on to the county commissioners for a final decision almost as soon as the application is submitted.
“We’re making good progress with all the details,” Quinlan said. “All other partners are still there.”
In the meantime, Cindy Cohagen of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, who in charge of the local fund raising for the project, said her organization has already received several pledges. The Land Trust is aiming to raise about $600,000.
The federal government, through the Bureau of Land Management, has already committed $1.5 million to the project. And the board of directors of the state lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado Program, or GOCO, gave $1 million to help purchase the easement.
“We’re in the process of working on our major lead gifts,” Cohagen said. “By the end of March, we’ll know what the balance we need to raise is and then we will launch a broad public campaign for the remainder of the project. We’re taking pledges because there’s still the unknown with the county money.”
We’re very excited and we are very confident that the Open Space Advisory Committee, as well as the county commissioners, will support the project,” Cohagen said.
Other standards the Bair Ranch would have to meet to qualify for the open space tax include preserving Eagle County’s “outstanding natural beauty and visual quality,” maintaining its regional heritage, supporting agriculture and ranches, and protecting wildlife and migration routes, according to the advisory committee’s policies.
“Bair Ranch hopefully will be a catalyst in Eagle County for conservation easements,” Quinlan said. “The timing is important with Bair Ranch. We also hope that the remaining open space tax goes to other valuable projects.”
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.