Measure Aims to Save Open Space

Measure Aims to Save Open Space

By Nathan Isaacs, Herald staff writer

Benton County commissioners Monday adopted a resolution supporting efforts to preserve Mid-Columbia open spaces from development, particularly along the ridges of Badger Mountain. The resolution stops short of the county creating a Conservation Futures program, allowed under state law, but does endorse the program’s concept.

A group of hiking enthusiasts now plans to use the county’s support in its efforts to raise money to purchase about 575 acres atop the visual landmark. “Our objective is to preserve Badger Mountain as open space to that the citizens of the Tri-Cities can enjoy the features of the mountain in the years to come,” said Mark Hoza, a member of the hikers group.

Commissioner Max Benitz Jr. opposed the resolution, saying the county already had enough open land for the public. “There isn’t anyone who enjoys the outdoors more than I,” he said. “But I can’t ask the citizens of Benton County to have more and more government controlling private land.” Former Benton County Commissioner Bob Drake also voiced dissent on the resolution, saying, “It appears the commissioners are falling into a trap of the taxpayers money.” If someone wants to protect open spaces, Drake said, he should do it on his own.

However, Hoza said the hikers group doesn’t intend that the county spend taxpayers’ money. He said the group would maintain the property if it’s bought and donated to the county. Before adopting the resolution, commissioners Claude Oliver and Leo Bowman made sure the county’s risk to liability and maintenance on future purchases was minimal.

The state created the Conservation Futures program in 1971. It gives counties a tool to acquire lands important to the preservation of wildlife, natural character or other significant recreational, social, scenic or aesthetic values. Thirteen counties use the program, most in Western Washington. Ferry and Spokane counties are the only ones in Eastern Washington that use the program.

The hikers group is focusing its initial efforts on Badger Mountain, but it also wants to preserve areas on Red Mountain and other Mid-Columbia ridges. The Badger Mountain property is being sold as a single unit for $675,000. Hoza said the group would work with the nonprofit Trust For Public Lands on purchasing the property. Hoza said the group would seek private donations as well as state and federal grants to buy the land.

Commissioner Claude Oliver suggested money from the county’s park development fund could also be contributed to the effort.

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