Summit County beginning process to identify open space to preserve using bond money

‘Right now, it’s just kind of a blank slate,’ deputy county manager says

Pamela Manson
For The Park Record
The Summit County Courthouse.
Park Record file photo

After the holidays, one of the first matters the Summit County Council will tackle is determining how to identify specific projects to fund with $50 million in bond money designated for open space preservation.

Officials said when they proposed the bond that the money would target the East Side, but they now need to set up a framework to figure out exactly which parcels of land to protect.

Staffers and the council will discuss the issue at a Jan. 19 work session, Deputy County Manager Janna Young said. She said they will talk about public engagement in the process and the utilization of two open space committees, the Eastern Summit County Agriculture Preservation and Open Space Advisory Committee (ESAP) and the Synderville Basin Open Space Advisory Committee (BOSAC).

“This is what these two groups already do because we’ve had other bonds in the past that they’ve had to allocate to certain lands,” Young said. “We have the potential of using those groups to come up with a set of criteria or goals and then give some recommendations to the council.”

The council passed a resolution in August to put the countywide open space bond on the November general election ballots. Voters overwhelmingly approved the proposal, the largest ever total for a bond of its kind in Summit County.

The bond money will be used for open space purchases, conservation easements, recreational amenities or environmental mitigation measures.

In addition to the advisory committees, the county will be working the Council of Governments to decide which areas are most critical, Young said. The group consists of Summit County Council members and the mayors of the municipalities in the county.

The Summit Land Conservancy and Utah Open Lands, organizations that have worked on prior conservation purchases, likely will have ideas about agriculture land that could be preserved, Young said.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of input feeding into this decision-making process,” she said.

Young added, “We’re very thankful and appreciative that the voters passed the bond. Now it’s time to get to work on figuring out how to spend those monies.”

Officials have cited the Kamas Meadow and the Weber River corridor as important areas for conservation but no decisions have been made yet.

“We know growth is coming, especially in the Kamas Valley and now is the time to be really looking at that and figuring out what areas we need to preserve or put a conservation easement on,” Young said.

However, everything is a possibility right now, including how council members decide to spend the money, she said. They could spread the funds around the county or target certain critical areas, she said.

“Right now, it’s just kind of a blank slate,” Young said.

Council Chair Glenn Wright said he wants to target pieces of land that are critical to the watershed, including the meadows in the Kamas Valley and the banks of the tributaries of the Weber River.

“We hope landowners will be interested in coming to us with proposals,” he said.

Wright also said he wants to stretch the bond money as far as possible.

“We need to try to leverage it with other funds,” he said. “That’s where the land conservancies come in. There are federal and state dollars out there and nonprofit dollars out there that can help us hopefully multiple that $50 million.”

Wright added that he hopes landowners interested in selling their property will come to the county with proposals.

Cheryl Fox, executive director of the Summit Land Conservancy, said there are two different property owners in the Kamas Valley who have pasture land on top of an aquifer. The property could fit the County Council priorities, but the organization won’t know for sure until the criteria for the bond funds are established.

Buying land is the most expensive way to preserve it so she would like to see the money leveraged, Fox said.

“It’s much more cost effective to work with an existing landowner who wants to continue in agriculture,” she said. “Then, all you have to pay for are the development rights. Then, you get to keep people in agribusiness on the property who have long-term deep-rooted stewardship with the property.”

In the past, Summit Land Conservancy has found partners who will buy land that needs to be protected and go through the process of putting a conservation easement on the property, Fox said.

“There’s a lot of philanthropy involved in that because they will never recoup the full price that they paid for the land,” she said.

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