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Helena City-County Building

Helena City-County Building

Lewis and Clark County commissioners are accepting public comment until Sept. 9 on a request to tap the Open Lands program for the purchase of land along the Blackfoot River near Lincoln for a new park.

The request that came before the commission last week, when the 30-day comment period was opened, is for up to $113,300 for nearly 9.5 acres owned by Paul Roos.

The overall project cost would be $134,600, according to the level two funding application submitted by Five Valleys Land Trust of Missoula, which lists Prickly Pear Land Trust in Helena as a secondary sponsoring organization.

Five Valleys Land Trust would contribute $18,300 in in-kind services, and Prickly Pear Land Trust would contribute $3,000. There are also $28,300 in transaction costs for the project, including money for an appraisal and a fee to ensure future stewardship of the property.

An appraisal by Norman C. Wheeler & Associates, which has Montana offices in Missoula and Bozeman, set the value of the land that includes about 1,056 feet of Blackfoot River frontage at $85,000.

The property is generally located east of and adjacent to Stemple Pass Road and south of the river that, it was noted during the presentation to the commission, in late summer can be beneath the streambed.

The purchase agreement between Five Valleys Land Trust and Roos will expire in December, said Vickie Edwards, the land trust’s conservation project manager.

The citizen advisory committee for the county’s Open Lands program voted 9-0 in support of the project and recommended reimbursing Five Valleys Land Trust for the $28,300 in transaction fees, according to a county staff report.

The commission meets monthly in Augusta and Lincoln and is scheduled to next meet in Lincoln on Oct. 7, when a decision could be made on whether to provide funding that would allow Five Valleys Land Trust to purchase and become the owner of the property.

Of the $10 million approved by county voters in 2008 for protecting land, water and wildlife, $3 million was converted into cash to fund projects.

So far, about $1,975,000 of that has been spent on projects, said Nancy Everson, the county’s finance director.

Kim Patterson, who made the citizen advisory committee motion to recommend the county fund the project, spoke at the commission meeting and said the committee saw the project as a great investment for the community.

While the commission did not disagree about the project’s value to the community, Commissioner Andy Hunthausen said the commission was not trying to acquire land on behalf of the county.

Both he and commission Chairman Mike Murray expressed concern that, unlike other projects funded through the Open Lands program, this request for the Lincoln Community River Park has no entity other than Lewis and Clark County providing cash to make the acquisition possible.

“The county is not normally asked to be the sole cash purveyor,” Murray said.

After the meeting, he noted his support for the project but said he would prefer to see an Open Lands program applicant with between 40 percent and 60 percent of the money needed.

“I think they need to come up with some cash,” Murray said, though he reaffirmed his support for the proposal.

“I think it’s still a great project,” Hunthausen said, explaining “it fits with why voters passed the open space bond.”

“If we had to fund it fully, I’d probably still support it,” he added.

Community interest in the park began more than three years ago, according to the funding application, with local residents gathering to discuss opportunities for a public park along the Blackfoot River.

According to the funding application, there are no homes on the land, and the property wouldn’t be used by Five Valleys Land Trust for residential purposes.

The application noted that the park is within walking distance of the center of Lincoln and would provide a place for activities that include fishing, swimming, wildlife viewing and picnicking.

“If Five Valleys transfers ownership in the future, Five Valleys would transfer ownership with restrictions in place that would maintain the open space values of the property and would allow for public access,” the application stated.

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Al Knauber can be reached at al.knauber@helenair.com

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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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