Routt County voters extend 1A funding for land conservation program

Dressed in a full-body jersey cow costume during the downtown Halloween Stroll, Community Agriculture Alliance Executive Director Michele Meyer was happily reminding voters to mark yes for Routt County Referendum 1A.

A passerby taking advantage of the chocolate candy at the information table noted there was no formal opposition to the ballot measure.

“I know, isn’t that great?” Meyer replied cheerily.

The 1A measure to reauthorize the existing mill levy of 1.5 mills on county property taxes was endorsed by more than 20 nonprofit groups or agencies and was passing easily Tuesday night by a margin of 85.2% to 14.8% after the first round of voting results.

This will be the third time voters have approved the tax — first in 1996 and then again in 2005. The current approval extends the mill levy through 2035. Funding from 1A is dedicated to the Purchase of Development Rights Program in Routt County, which provides landowners with funding in exchange for permanent land preservation.

According to the ballot measure text, mill levy proceeds will continue to be used “solely for the preservation and conservation of natural lands, including lands that preserve water quality, wildlife habitat, working ranches and scenic landscapes and vistas.”

So far, counting approved and pending PDR projects, the program has protected 83 properties for a total of 71,869 acres at a cost of $34.7 million, according to Jennifer Parent, executive administrative assistant to Routt County commissioners.

Landowner PDR applications must be sponsored by a qualified land conservation organization, which have included Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, City of Steamboat Springs, Colorado Open Lands and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The PDR program provides a portion of the total funding needed to complete the transaction and is supplemented by the landowners’ donations of part of the easement values as well as federal, state and local agency contributed funds.

Claire Sollars, an attorney at Colorado Water Matters in Steamboat, has served as chair of the citizens’ PDR Advisory Board since its creation a quarter century ago. Sollars said the program is beneficial for multiple reasons ranging from helping ranchers stay in business to protecting watersheds, and some of her favorite highlights include land preserved to protect the Yampa River corridor as it runs through southern Routt County.

Tarn Dickerson, founder of Sustainable Building Solutions in Steamboat, is the current advisory board vice chair with help by five other Routt County residents. Properties recommended for conservation by the committee are then reviewed for approval by the Routt County Board of County Commissioners.

Sollars said the process for approval requires a rigorous review, and the criteria was specified in the original 1996 program. Each year the board receives three to 10 applications, including seven diverse project applications this year, Sollars said.

According to the Routt County website, “PDR is a land protection tool in which a property’s development rights are purchased from willing landowners. In exchange, the landowner grants a perpetual conservation easement, or deed restriction on the property, thereby permanently protecting the land from development. The land may be sold or transferred, but the deed restriction remains in place.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.