Pasco may swap farm circles for state land

By Kristi Pihl, Herald staff writerMay 17, 2010 

Pasco may acquire more than 300 acres of state-owned land near Road 68 to sell for development.

The city and the state Department of Natural Resources are considering a land swap that would trade state land for some of the city's farm circles west of Highway 395 near Foster Wells Road.

The DNR property, south of Interstate 182 and west of Road 68, is surrounded by residential and commercial development. Roads dead-end at the property, and the city has extended utility systems around it.

The state agency plans to hold an open house to explain the proposal at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Franklin County PUD auditorium at 1411 W. Clark St.

"It's still just an if," said Mark Bohnet, DNR's Snake River district manager.

The city and state need to have the land appraised to determine how many of the city's 14 farm circles would equal the value of the 333 acres of state property, he said.

Lowe's Home Improvement at Road 68 is on state land, but the agency doesn't plan to trade that portion, Bohnet said. However, a triangular piece east of Road 68 and south of I-182 may be included.

The use of the city's farm circles for the city process water reuse facility wouldn't change. Part of the deal would be working out a long-term lease with the city, Bohnet said.

"We would just be the land owner," he said.

The process water reuse facility discharges water onto the farm circles from nearby food processing plants, said Gary Crutchfield, Pasco city manager.

Farmers rent the circles to grow alfalfa, corn and potatoes, and the city receives about $700,000 annually from the leases.

Leasing the property back from DNR wouldn't cost the city, which would collect rent for the traded circles and send the money to DNR, Crutchfield said.

The state would benefit from the trade because it would add revenue to support state schools, Bohnet said.

He said 70 percent of the income from DNR-managed trust lands goes to a public school construction fund. The rest pays for DNR operations.

The city would like to get the Road 68 land out of state hands and onto the tax rolls, Crutchfield said, and the trade would do that.

If it goes through, the city would resell the land for development, he said, and the land sales would repay city costs for the trade.

The city then could see $250 million worth of investment on the Road 68 land in a 10- to 15-year period, he said.

Crutchfield said the city also would be able to extend Chapel Hill Road to create a second arterial to alleviate traffic in the Road 68 area.

In addition to the Tuesday open house and presentation, a formal public hearing on the proposal is planned in late summer.

If the trade moves forward, the city council and the state Board of Natural Resources likely would make a decision in 2011.

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