From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 27 - October 3, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

PDR group gets $4,500 expense budget

by Cat Urbigkit

The Sublette County Purchase of Development Rights Working Group met for a work session Wednesday evening at the Sublette County Library in Pinedale.

Working group members include Bernie Holz, Nancy Espenscheid, Albert Sommers, John Andrikopoulos and Jo Crandall. Carla Sullivan, Eric Peterson and Joanne Garnett provide technical and clerical support for the group. Neither Peterson nor Garnett was at Wednesday's meeting, although Sullivan did attend.

The group had already held two meetings prior to Wednesday's session. Espenscheid reported that the group has decided to have a revolving chairmanship and this week's meeting was her turn.

Espenscheid reviewed her meeting earlier in the day with the Sublette County Commissioners. At that meeting, the commission agreed to provide $4,500 for expenses involved in publicizing meetings and in hosting two events in which speakers are brought in to speak from other areas in which PDR programs are already in place. The commission also agreed that the PDR working group should hold its meetings publicly, with notice so the public could be notified when meetings are scheduled.

The group worked on drafting a questionnaire for the general public to fill out to help gauge their views. These questionnaires may be mailed, put in local newspapers or available at public meetings or forums.

Espenscheid said one thing the questionnaire could determine is "what the public knows and what they don't know."

Another question is whether the respondent is in favor of the purchase of conservation easements, or opposed to such action.

Sommers suggested broader questions, such as whether the type of change the county is experiencing is acceptable or not acceptable, and if it is viewed as a problem, whether is it worth attempting to fix it or not.

"I'm not convinced people feel this change is unacceptable," Sommers said.

Espenscheid suggested questions to gauge the general feeling about the use of public funds for PDRs and separate that out from how the public feels about conservation easements, and inquire about how the county program could be structured.

Crandall suggested a question to help determine the respondents' level and reason for interest.

As the group discussed how and when to pose the questions to the public, Holz said he fears an uninformed response from the public and questioned how useful such information could be.

Andrikopoulos said the bias of the press is reflected in the local newspapers' choices not to print the economic tax benefits of such a conservation easement program. Andrikopoulos suggested a question regarding the perception of public benefit.

The working group plans to host the speaker's forum in early November, and Sommers questioned whether there is a need to hold a second meeting featuring both supporters and detractors of PDR programs.

For every question in the survey, a nominal scale answer will be provided, perhaps with a rating of one to five, accompanied by an essay space, the group agreed.

Andrikopoulos suggested that where PDR is used in the survey it should also use the term "purchase of agriculture conservation easements" or PACE.

"Why can't we just say purchase of conservation easements?" Espenscheid said. "Are we presenting a bias in the label? I don't want to."

"I don't either," Crandall said.

Espenscheid suggested the group remain as generic as possible in its wording to not provide leading questions, but Andrikopoulos pushed for the agricultural language to be included.

"If you leave the word agriculture out, you're misleading them," Andrikopoulos said.

Sommers pointed out PDRs wouldn't necessarily be for agricultural lands, but could be for historical or cultural grounds as well.

In response to a question from Espenscheid, Andrikopoulos said he could foresee county money being used to help another entity purchase development rights.

"The notion is that the county will maybe fund this amount," Holz said, while other partners would fund other amounts.

Andrikopoulos said he has no doubt that at some point someone would want to come to the local land trust and ask that their conservation easement be bought by their choice of the American Farmland Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Wyoming Stock Growers, the county or the Green River Valley Land Trust.

Andrikopoulos said, "That easement will be agricultural. It will not change the use of that land dramatically."

The group emphasized that the plan they envision wouldn't have the county purchase a development right to hold that right, but to actually extinguish that right. By extinguishing that right, the development right could not be sold, the group said.

The survey will ask questions pertaining to the respondent's familiarity with PDR, PACE and conservation easements; where the respondent got their information; their interest in a PDR program for Sublette County; advantages/disadvantages to a PDR program; and the criteria that should be used in evaluating a property for PDRs.

The next PDR group meeting is set for Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. at the library in Pinedale.

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