The Spokesman-Review

Opinion

SUNDAY, JUNE 28, 2009

Preservation successes offer lesson on YMCA

The Spokane area’s supply of protected natural land grew significantly this week, thanks to a combination of perseverance in one case and timely good fortune in another.

The Dishman Hills Natural Area Association finally completed a swap for 80 acres of the Spokane Valley where the long-coveted Rocks of Sharon are located. The area, which includes a popular climbing feature known as Big Rock, is part of an area that conservationists value as a corridor for elk, moose and white-tailed deer.

Efforts to secure the land have been going on for nearly 20 years.

In contrast, Spokane County announced it is completing an $861,000 deal for 171 forested acres that unexpectedly became available – and at 30 percent below market value – just west of the state line near Hauser Lake. The bargain transaction was possible on short notice, thanks to the county’s Conservation Futures fund, which county voters repeatedly have affirmed as a popular use of their property tax dollars.

Conservation Futures funding hasn’t figured in to the Big Rock deal so far, but county Parks Director Doug Chase says a request could still arrive. Meanwhile, the fund has been crucial in many nearby acquisitions as conservationists’ “dream trail” between Tower Mountain and the Dishman Hills Natural Area moves closer to realization.

If such opportunities are to be seized – whether on a moment’s notice or after a decades-long campaign – the Conservation Futures fund will have to be maintained with respect and prudence.

It’s important to keep that in mind at present, because the Spokane City Council is faced with a choice that could encumber the fund to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the next 20 years.

Having voted this week to take the Spokane Park Board off the hook and purchase the controversial YMCA property in Riverfront Park, the city leaders have to decide whether to accept Spokane County commissioners’ offer to tap the Conservation Futures fund to pay the Y what the city still owes.

The commissioners displayed questionable wisdom in agreeing to the usage in the first place, although the city Park Board led the way when it put $1 million down on the property, not knowing how it would come up with the balance of the $5.3 million purchase. They knew only that they wanted the property kept from a private buyer who might actually put it on the tax rolls.

The City Council’s motivation appears to be a sincere desire to help the Y, a decent nonprofit organization that’s caught in the middle waiting for its money. Therefore, the city will draw on a solid-waste reserve fund for now and will have six months to decide whether to accept the Conservation Futures money.

As the council members weigh that decision, they should ponder the conservation successes that are happening around Spokane County. They might even want to tour some of the land where rich plant and wildlife are being nurtured, thanks to a reliable funding source contributed by taxpayers. Then, before they vote, council members can ask themselves if it’s smart to squander Conservation Futures money on land that has spent the bulk of the past century as a building site or a parking lot.



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