From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 6 - May 8, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Commission approves $500K PDR program

by Cat Urbigkit

Although it wasn't on the agenda for Tuesday's commission meeting, Sublette County Commission Chairman Gordon Johnston told his fellow commissioners during breakfast that morning that he planned on having the commission cast its votes on a county-funded purchase of development rights program.

When it came down to it Tuesday afternoon, Commissioner Betty Fear made the motion to fund a $500,000 pilot PDR program. With only Commissioner Bill Cramer expressing opposition, the motion passed.

The county PDR Working Group was not in attendance at the meeting, but Johnston broached the subject by having County Attorney Van Graham explain the legal implications of the proposal.

Graham explained that the county could legally use tax money to purchase development rights so long as it retains the development rights, and does not turn them over to a third party. He also said the county could join in purchasing development rights with other parties. For example, Graham said, the county could provide 25 percent of the funding for a conservation easement, and then hold that 25-percent interest as tenants in common with other owners. The county would also have a duty to monitor and enforce the terms of the easement, with the other tenants, in the public interest.

Johnston said while everyone else has had their say about the PDR issue, he wanted to take his turn. He said: "Sublette County does have areas that are basically disasters," including seasonal ranges for big game, wildlife birthing areas and migration corridors. He used the example of Beaver Ridge on several occasions.

Johnston said while these areas were once ranches with viable open space, development has occurred, with associated buildings, fences, roads, dogs, lights, humans, altered vegetation and waterways, leaving "at best, fragmented habitat."

Johnston said the best that could be hoped for is to prevent further development disasters. He said the only entity that has the authority to do something about the problem is boards of county commissions.

While zoning is one way to address the problem, Johnston said, "It's not going to happen within my lifetime, and I feel pretty good."

Johnston said in all the discussion and debate, not one person has come forward with a viable solution to these problems, except for those interested in the PDRs.

"If we don't do it, who is going to do it?" Johnston questioned. "If we don't do it now, when? We are in special circumstances now."

Johnston said: "The PDR program is not going to raise anybody's taxes. We're all taxed to the max now. We're not going to lower the mill levy."

Johnston said since the county can afford the PDR program now, he supports moving forward with a pilot program. Johnston said he would entertain a motion to proceed with a pilot PDR program, but Cramer responded with: "Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your enthusiasm and your motivation. But I cannot support it at this time."

Cramer began to go into his reasoning, including that he felt it was too new a concept for public acceptance at this time, but Johnston interjected, arguing "If not now, when?"

Cramer continued, noting that he will not support the program until he has been shown that, for every dollar spent by the county, more than a dollar of revenue benefit is realized.

"I'm not a conservation entity, I'm a county commissioner," Cramer said. "I'm not a Green River Valley Land Trust member, I'm a county commissioner. I'm not a Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner, I'm a county commissioner."

Cramer said he has to answer to his constituents, "what I hear from those constituents is that now is not the time."

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department wrote a letter to the commission dated April 25, urging the commission to go forward with the program. It was signed by deputy director Bill Wichers. WG&F's Bernie Holz is a member of the PDR Working Group pushing the program.

Fear said the PDR proposal is the only one she's seen come before the commission that does not require funding for maintenance in the future.

"It's not an ongoing cost to the taxpayers," Fear said.

Fear said questions about this program "can't be answered until we test the waters."

The other option, Fear said, would be to enact more planning and zoning regulations.

Fear made the motion to fund the pilot program with $500,000. Cramer said, "I won't second that motion," but Johnston said, "Okay, I will."

Fear and Johnston voted for the successful motion, but Cramer cast his vote in opposition.

The county will soon begin advertising for those interested in serving on the citizen review board for the PDR program, but no deadline has been set.

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