Washington County targets 10,000 acres to buy, preserve

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 25, 2012 - 9:37 PM

Washington County has $20 million in voter-approved funds to add to its open space inventory.

Ten conservation areas have landed on Washington County's newest list of open spaces that are considered worth saving from development.

The latest priorities total about 10,000 acres, or 3.7 percent of the county's total land area. Ranging from German Lake in Scandia at the north end of the county to St. Croix Blufflands in the south, the new areas represent the latest effort to take advantage of $20 million in voter-approved spending for conservation.

"I wouldn't say it's a roadmap but it's the bigger picture," Jane Harper, the county's principal planner for the Land and Water Legacy projects, said of the list.

Negotiations can take years because of all the public policy and legal reviews, but even small plots can become important connections between parks and other green spaces.

Washington County voters approved a referendum in 2006 to spend up to $20 million over 10 years to conserve land and protect water. To date, the county has spent about $3.4 million for six projects that include either outright land acquisition or buying conservation easements from landowners.

The easements allow private ownership to continue but owners sell permanent development rights to their land, agreeing that it will remain in its natural state. Individual negotiations vary, but in some cases the public will be allowed access to private land.

The 10 general locations in Washington County that meet planners' expectations for preservation haven't been ranked by priority. They're listed from north to south:

German Lake, 376 acres; Big Marine Lake North, 918 acres; Rice Lake Wetlands/Hardwood Swamps, 2,110 acres; Keystone Woods, 387 acres; Carnellian Creek Corridor, 2,690 acres; Silver-Twin Lakes Corridor, 470 acres; Brown's Creek Central, 307 acres; Valley Creek Corridor, 1,024 acres; Mississippi Bend, 1,078 acres and St. Croix Blufflands, 719 acres.

All of the proposed areas were reviewed by water management organizations and a multi-agency planning work group, Harper said. Some of the land borders existing parks and other green spaces. Some of it already is under study by cities, townships, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other entities, she said.

"I think there's quite a bit going on that people aren't aware of," Harper said.

None of the proposals have gone to public hearings because they're not specific enough, she said.

The county's most recent investment in public land involved spending $1 million from Land and Water Legacy toward the purchase of the Minnesota Zephyr railbed from Stillwater to Grant. That 5.6-mile corridor will become the Brown's Creek State Trail. State conservation funds paid for the larger share of the purchase.

Harper said Friday she'll need more specific direction from Washington County commissioners before moving forward with the new list. The board isn't expected to approve money to buy land until this summer, she said.

The voter-approved bond referendum was designed to improve water quality of rivers, lakes and streams; protect drinking water resources, purchase parkland, preserve wetlands and woodlands, and protect land along water bodies from development.

"We're focusing on lands that best meet the criteria of the referendum," Harper said.

Information is available at www.co.washington.mn.us/lwlp

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles

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