POSED EASEMENTS for the Hill and Potter Ranch Agricultural Conservation Easement projects was discussed during the Sierra County Board of Supervisors’ meeting in Loyalton on Tuesday. Executive Director of the Feather River Land Trust, Shelton Douthit stated he was delighted to support Arnold and Christine Potter and Justin and Sarah Hill in their conservation easements. He stated over 34,000 acres are currently under conservation easements in Sierra Valley and added it was consistent with the general plan as the agricultural element calls out for permanent protection of agriculture lands. Douthit stated they have secured 100% funding for both the 253 acre Potter Ranch and 440 acre Hill Ranch which are both near the City of Loyalton. He added this was the same resolution that came before the Board about the Martinetti Ranch a couple years ago. He said the owners plan to use the proceeds to improve the ranch and pass it on to their kids. Douthit added no one could predict what we will be facing in the future, so these plans are designed to adapt to that. Supervisor Lee Adams stated he is supportive of this, but Sierra County is 70% national forest land. 25% of timber receipts went away so now we have Secure Rural Schools, which is seen as a handout. He said he would vote for this, but wants to see something back in Sierra County and would like to see agencies force the Forest Service back into Downieville. 50 -100 jobs left when they left. Adams stated they were whittling away any possible economic development, and was concerned with four goals stated on the easement that agriculture was the last goal. He supports public lands, but what happens to Sierra County in the future, adding forever is a very long time. Adams added that a private business in Sierraville wants to develop and has economic possibilities but is getting squashed on another level. Douthit told Adams the goals weren’t in any particular order, stating the easements were designed to protect agriculture and to prevent urban uses on these properties. He stated, "We have $18 million that has been focused toward this valley for the purchase of these easements. Those dollars go to the private property owners, but we’re hoping....you know many of them have stated they are going to reinvest those funds in the ranches right here.” Supervisor Sharon Dryden wanted to know where the funds come from. Douthit stated $9 million is from the US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Farm Bill and are federal funds. The matching funds come from Department of Conservation Sustainable Land Conservation Program (cap and trade money). He said projects are initiated by the landowners and the Land Trust becomes the holder of these easements, which are monitored twice a year. Dryden would prefer these easements go before Rural Conservation District (RCD) before coming to the Board, like the process with the planning commission. She questioned tabling it for a month, so the RCD could review first. Douthit stated these are private property rights and each easement is unique. He stated they are at deadlines and could not wait a month. Supervisor Jim Beard was adamantly opposed to using taxpayer money, but is a firm believer in property rights and would have to approve based on other easements From the audience, Dave Goicoechea is the adjacent property owner to the Potter Ranch. He supports the specific easement and is also the Chairman of the RCD. He agreed with Adams, but felt the pressure to develop was real, adding he worried they could lose the General Plan with one vote. He would like to see a mandatory requirement in these easements that they continue to be operated as farms.
Rick Roberti, Vice Chairman of RCD stated he has easements along three sides of his ranch. They went through the process, but decided not to put their ranch in an easement. Part of why they decided against it, was because Department of Fish & Wildlife is part of it and are always doing something negative to their lifestyle. Roberti also wants his kids to have
the option to change things. He warned the Board these aren’t the only two groups who hand out easements, adding there are radical groups who don’t like grazing and cattle that give out easements. Roberti felt going before the RCD in the future was a good decision. Roberti was not afraid of what Potters are doing or what the Hills are doing at the old Genasci Ranch, but stated looking down the road, we need to be careful what we lock ourselves into.
Linda Sanford from the Valley View Angus Ranch was the first easement in the Valley in 1996. She stated they donated the easement for tax purposes and said you could make the easement tailored to the way you want it, adding it has been perfect to this day.
She felt it was a benefit to the County.
Lucy Blake, from the Lemmon Canyon Ranch, stated she did a conservation easement in 2011. She said no two easements are the same and with the funds she received she was able to make expensive improvements to forest health, barn improvements and restored a farmhouse in Sierraville, which she rents, using local help. Blake stated these are private investment decisions, and felt it would be intrusive with the RCD getting heavily involved. She didn’t want the board micromanaging easements, but commended the Board on maintaining agricultural viability in Sierra County.
The Resolution for both properties was approved unanimously.
THE CLOSURE of the Downieville branch of Wells Fargo Bank had continued discussion during the Board of Supervisors’ meeting held in Loyalton on Tuesday, July 23rd. Supervisor Lee Adams finally received a response back after the letter was sent from the Board Chair a month ago. He read aloud the “canned” response, and stated this was not the response he was hoping for. Adams said the Bank is interested in hosting community workshops to explain mobile banking options and the ATM is to stay and hoped to provide an enhanced ATM with more capabilities. Adams concluded by stating, they have few options and an enhanced ATM is certainly better than nothing.