Benton OKs turning land into preservesignshoplo
Hikers and nature enthusiasts can stop worrying about houses replacing the trails and shrub-steppe habitat on Badger Mountain bordering the southwestern edge of the Tri-Cities. Benton County commissioners voted 2-1 Wednesday to set aside 574 acres along the crest and slopes of the mountain to preserve its "recreational, ecological and aesthetic values." Commissioner Max Benitz Jr. voted against the measure, saying he was concerned about the loss of property tax revenue. "Our skylines are disappearing," said commission Chairman Claude Oliver. "It's a community statement preserving the hillside from having houses go all the way up." The Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve, as the proposed nature area had been named, has been purchased by a coalition of public and private interests from Badger Inc. for about $685,000. Badger Inc. is owned by Sheldon Shore of Pasco and a couple of other partners. The preserve will be managed by the county. The state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which gives money for environmental preservation, contributed $485,000 to the purchase. Friends of Badger Mountain, a volunteer group formed by hikers, raised $75,000. The city of Richland contributed $100,000, while Benton County gave $25,000. About 20 people attended the meeting Wednesday and applauded the commission's action. Many were members of the Friends of Badger Mountain, which has worked for more than two years to preserve parts of Badger Mountain. "The Friends of Badger Mountain are delighted," said Mark Hoza, a group member. Friends members started the organization to preserve traditional hiking areas they felt were being encroached upon by housing developments. A steady housing market has resulted in more and more houses creeping up the ridges of Badger and Red mountains. But Benitz said he was concerned about property tax revenue lost by turning private property into a public preserve. He estimated the amount lost annually to be about $2,544, plus costs to control noxious weeds and maintain fire protection and law enforcement. He also said he believed the price of the land was too high. Benitz suggested putting the issue on the November ballot to let voters decide whether the land should become a public preserve. But Commissioner Leo Bowman said the process had been started by a citizens group and had gone through a public process. "The public has had lots of time for input, and I don't ever recall anyone coming forward and saying, 'No,' " he said. Oliver also said he believed Shore could have subdivided the property and sold each lot separately, earning far more than $685,000 with the view from the ridges. He also said he believed tourism, wineries and other events in the county would make up for the lost revenue. The sale of the property should be completed this month.
Friends of Badger Mountain are approaching preservation in a model way: Identify a community concern, find a willing land owner, get diverse groups involved and gather grassroots support. And Friends is tackling it in short order. Last month, the group of Tri-City hiking enthusiasts announced it had negotiated an agreement to buy 574 acres on the crest and slopes of Badger Mountain now owned by Sheldon Shore of Pasco and a couple of other partners. Preservation of open spaces has been a growing concern during the recent Tri-City building boom, as neighborhoods in Richland and Pasco showed last year when they mobilized to oppose proposed sales of publicly owned land. Now, local conservationists are working with The Trust for Public Land to collect the $700,000 necessary to buy the Badger Mountain property. Friends of Badger Mountain is hoping to show local support for the project by raising $75,000 from local individuals and businesses by Dec. 15. That's a tall order for a volunteer group that is less than two years old. But as of Friday, the group had raised well over $40,000. (To donate, e-mail Sharon@friendsofbadger.org or call 375-5705.) Indeed, the Badger Mountain group has a big circle of friends. With assistance in some form or another from the city of Richland, Benton County, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society and the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau, there is a diverse set of partners pursuing the project. Add the state's Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to that list. Last year, Bonneville Power Administration gave the council $3.5 million in exchange for the lifting of a requirement that land beneath two unfinished nuclear power plants north of Richland be returned to its original condition. BPA now has until 2029 to partially restore the site, and the state has money to spend on preserving shrub steppe in and around Benton County. When a potential land purchase elsewhere in Benton County fell through, the energy council began looking more seriously at Badger Mountain. The council could end up being a big donor to the project. If so, preservation of a piece of Badger Mountain would be, in a roundabout way, a legacy of the Washington Public Power Supply System debacle that left the nuclear plants unfinished. Friends of Badger Mountain might end up with another ingredient for a successful project: A great story to tell.
Ridge Preservation Deserves Supportsignshoplo
The Tri-City landscape is defined as much by the hills above as the rivers through it. Rattlesnake Mountain. Jump Off Joe Butte. Red Mountain. Flat Top. Horse Heaven. Badger Mountain. Most mornings, slanting rays of sunlight cast shadows that bring the creases and folds along the vast slopes into stark relief. In the evenings, the hills form dark silhouettes against the streaks of sunset's flaming colors, form and light each enhancing the other. Subtle changes in the arid plant life clinging to the hillsides mark our changing seasons. The vistas, when we stop long enough to consider them, are dramatic. And endangered. The fact is, the ridge lines won't all survive the community's growth untouched. Homes and roads will reach higher with each surge in construction. But it's possible to preserve parts. Benton County commissioners took a step in that direction earlier this week, voting 2-1 to endorse efforts to save 575 acres atop Badger Mountain. Commissioner Max Benitz and other opponents to the proposal aren't making sense. The rights of landowner Sheldon Shore aren't threatened by the plan. He wants the property sold as a single parcel and preserved as a park. Taxes aren't involved, even though the purchase of park lands is a legitimate use of public money. Instead, the $675,000 deal, being brokered with the help of the nonprofit Trust For Public Lands, depends on donations and grants, not local tax dollars. What's more, the impetus isn't coming from Washington, D.C., or even Western Washington. The drive comes from local hikers who want to ensure that the open spaces they enjoy aren't entirely lost to future generations. Opposition is as baffling as the views are inspiring.