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Volunteers sign up to promote open space

by Sheila Gardner, Staff Writer

Fourteen Douglas County residents volunteered Thursday to continue efforts to preserve open space in Carson Valley.

The volunteers accepted a challenge from Rudy McTee, president of the Business Council of Douglas County, to pursue alternatives to preserving open space following last month’s defeat of a quarter-cent sales tax that would have been used to purchase development rights.

The Business Council sponsored a workshop Thursday, attended by nearly 50 people to answer the question, “What’s next?” in regard to the open space issue. Advocates of both sides of the debate attended.

“We believe we can do something else,” McTee said, noting the tax was defeated by a vote of 9,789-7,744.

“The county plan talked about 30,000 acres and a $30 million bond. Why don’t we lower our sights?” he asked.

McTee emphasized that the Business Council – which opposed the tax – would not be in charge of the effort, but was willing to facilitate a second meeting if there was interest. At the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, he said a second session would be scheduled to organize the volunteers.

Rick Campbell, an outspoken opponent of the tax, repeated his offer to donate $1,000 to start a private land trust. He told the audience they could draw from the pool of 7,744 residents who, by voting for the ordinance, indicated a willingness to spend $40 per year per family to preserve open space.

“It’s simple math,” Campbell said. “Those people agreed to spend $40 a year of their own money. That adds up to $309,760 a year. It’s enough to hire an executive director for the private land trust and get the ball rolling.”

He said there are numerous Web sites that offer information about nonprofit organizations, land trusts and grant writing.

“That way, you are not reinventing the wheel. There is so much help out there already. It is just huge. All we need is some horsepower,” Campbell said.

Rancher Kathi Hussman took exception to businessman Dave Williams’ suggestion that land owners look to alternative crops and outside experts to help them make a go of farming.

“There already are these groups,” Hussman said. “It’s not like we’re uneducated. We all make a very good living. Please don’t feel sorry for us. We are not poor, pitiful farmers.”

“It’s not an insult,” Williams said. “It’s a reality of economics. The more people who come here, the more pressure. If I continued to run my business the same way I did 10 or 15 years ago, I would be out of business.”

Earlier Thursday, U. S. Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., announced that legislation had passed to adjust the boundary of the Toiyabe National Forest in Douglas County to shift the jurisdiction from the U. S. Forest Service to the Bureau of Land Management,

The legislation is necessary to secure voluntary conservation easements from private land owners to preserve open space.

Without the shift, landowners would have had to deal with two federal agencies to obtain the easements administered by BLM.

The easements are voluntary contracts that permanently limit future development while allowing landowners to retain ownership and use of their property.