Friday, March 8, 2013

Frugal BLM puts land grant on hold

Partners still trying to move whitewater park plan forward


By BRENNAN REGO
Express Staff Writer

Citing a lack of resources, the BLM has told Ketchum it will not be able to pursue consideration of a land transfer application submitted by the city to allow it to build a whitewater park, among other proposed projects, on what is now federal land. However, the city and private supporters of the park have offered to contribute to the review process to ensure the transfer can be completed.

“Basically, we’re helping the federal government increase its efficiency,” said Ketchum Parks and Recreation Department Director Jennifer Smith at a City Council meeting Monday, during which she presented an update on the application.

In 2008, Ketchum, in partnership with the Wood River Land Trust, submitted an application for a “recreation and public purposes patent” that would grant two parcels of land—one north of Ketchum and the other west of the city—to the city under a deed-restricted ownership. The parcels would revert back to the BLM if Ketchum didn’t maintain the land according to specified standards. The whitewater park would run through the northern parcel near the Sun Peak picnic area, immediately southeast of Hulen Meadows subdivision.

Smith said at the meeting that the BLM has told the city the patent is a low priority and, due to budget restraints, that it won’t be able to complete its review in less than three years. Smith said in January that the city had hoped to begin construction by fall 2014.

At the meeting Monday, Smith said the Whitewater Park Committee—a group of private park supporters, the Land Trust and the city have agreed to sponsor some work the BLM must do to approve the patent. According to a staff report, the BLM would decide how to allocate the resources and would decide whether to award the grant.

“I’m not worried about it costing the city too much,” Smith said at the meeting.

According to the staff report, private philanthropy is available to cover expected costs of $25,000 to $50,000 to hire a third party to review a not-yet-completed environmental assessment required by the BLM. In October, the city, Land Trust and committee agreed to pay $33,747 each for the environmental assessment. The city and its partners have not yet agreed to pay for the review, but are working with the BLM to find a qualified third-party contractor. The BLM would choose which firm to hire.


Brennan Rego: brego@mtexpress.com




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