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Helena City-County Building

Helena City-County Building

The Lewis and Clark County Commission set aside a $228,000 proposal for use of the county’s open space bond fund until it has more information.

A representative of the Prickly Pear Land Trust didn’t object and said additional funding needed to complete the purchase of a conservation easement had not been obtained.

The land trust had hoped to receive $224,000 from the Montana Fish & Wildlife Conservation fund to use along with the open space bond money for the easement on nearly 125 acres along York Road.

The application for conservation trust funds for the project will be part of the organization’s funding cycle for 2016.

The application will be part of the typical annual process where it is ranked against others, said John Hagengruber in December. Hagengruber is the chairman of the joint state-federal board, which is one of two boards that consider funding requests made to the conservation trust.

The citizen board, which is the other board that manages the trust, will meet in April and assign scores to all of the funding requests.

These projects with their rankings are then forwarded to the state-federal board that makes decisions in late April or early May, Hagengruber had explained.

Awards are made after a 30-day public comment period.

A county staff report noted that the applicant and sponsor wanted to close by the end of January 2016.

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The land trust is the sponsoring organization for the request for open space bond funds.

A title report on the land had not been received when the commission opened a public hearing Tuesday on use of the bond funds, and the county’s legal staff recommended against approving the request.

Concern was also voiced with what information had been provided, and the commission was advised to wait until an updated title report had been obtained.

Applicants for the conservation easement are Marty Welch and Susan Shellabarger, and Tia Nelson and Derek Brown. Brown and Nelson are seeking to buy the land, and the conservation easement makes their purchase more affordable.

The Welch property is about 25 miles from Helena and just before the Vigilante Campground. It is said to be the largest tract of private property in the Trout Creek valley.

Because public money from the open space bond is being sought for the easement, Brown said in December when the proposal was first considered, a parking lot will be developed and access provided for fishing and wildlife viewing. About 1 1/2 miles of the creek flow through the property.

“The public needs to get something more out of it, more than just driving down the road and being able to see it,” said Brown, who is a former Lewis and Clark County commissioner.

No hunting will be allowed on the property, as there is significant hunting opportunity on surrounding Helena National Forest land, nor will dogs be allowed because of livestock, a county staff report 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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