County highlights preservation prioritiesWashington County planners identified their top conservation targets in a report delivered to county commissioners last week – a list that includes three south Washington County natural areas and more than 9,000 acres of land.
By: Jon Avise, Woodbury Bulletin
Washington County planners identified their top conservation targets in a report delivered to county commissioners last week – a list that includes three south Washington County natural areas and more than 9,000 acres of land.
The report laid out 10 high-priority sites where officials believe the county’s Land and Water Legacy funds could be focused and will serve “ document for guiding the future of the program,” said Washington County Administrator Jim Schug.
Approved by voters in a 2006 referendum, the program authorizes the county to bond for up to $20 million to acquire land or enter into conservation agreements to preserve wetlands, woodlands, prairies, lakes, streams and rivers. Last week’s presentation by Jane Harper, the manager of the Land and Water Legacy program, to County Board members outlined the highest priorities for future county acquisitions. The list includes a trio natural areas in southern Washington County: the 512-acre Valley Creek Corridor in Afton; the more than 1,000-acre Mississippi Bend area in Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park and Grey Cloud Island Township; and the 719-acre St. Croix bluff lands in Denmark Township along the St. Croix River.
Other sites on the list include German Lake in Scandia; Big Marine Lake North; Rice Lake Wetlands/Hardwood Swamps; Keystone Woods; the Carnelian Creek Corridor; and Silver-Twin Lakes Corridor.
Harper told the Board $3.4 million of the initial $5 million in Land and Water Legacy funding the county bonded for has been spent and county staff is completing work on the eight initial projects identified in the first phase of the project.
Commissioners must now decide whether to bond for additional preservation funds.
Commissioner Gary Kriesel, who represents Stillwater, said that decision would come during 2013 budget discussions later this year. If the board commits to expanding the program and seeking out land to purchase it needs to follow through with funding, he said.
“The bottom line is it’s time to fish or cut bait,” Kriesel said. Later, he added: “We’ve got some real gems out there.”
Board chair Dennis Hegberg, of Forest Lake, said he supports bonding for more in 2013 – and raising the county property tax levy to pay for it. But Autumn Lehrke, who represents south Washington County on the board, said she would not back raising the property tax levy to bond for additional conservation dollars.
“It’s important to take the budget into account. I’m not OK with raising the levy $500,000,” Lehrke said. The $500,000 is the approximate cost of levying an additional $5 million, officials said.