Benton County seeks nonprofit's expertise

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldMarch 20, 2013 

Benton County commissioners plan to invite a national nonprofit that has helped other communities with conservation financing to provide some expertise to local officials.

The Trust for Public Land will prepare a feasibility report looking at local conservation needs -- such as protecting natural areas and wildlife habitat -- and the financing mechanisms that could help pay for them, said Dee Frankfourth, the group's Seattle-based associate national director for conservation strategies.

The work won't cost the county any money; the nonprofit has foundation funding that covers it.

Frankfourth spoke during a special commissioners meeting Wednesday at the county justice center in Kennewick. Commissioners during the session voted 3-0 to send a letter asking the land trust to provide the technical assistance.

The action doesn't "lock us into anything," but does "give the chance for (the land trust) to do some research," said Commissioner Shon Small, chairman of the board of commissioners.

"I think it's important for us to get with our (conservation community) here locally, analyze the inventory, what we have, talk about what we want," Commissioner Jim Beaver said during the session. "If we don't do something, then it's gone. We've already seen that here locally."

Members of groups such as Tapteal Greenway and Friends of Badger Mountain packed the meeting room for the special session.

"I am very appreciative of your courage. This is something that a lot of people in this room have been considering for a long time," Scott Woodward, president of Tapteal Greenway and the Ridges to Rivers Open Space Network, told commissioners. "That's one thing about conservation, (you have) to work at it everyday. And when you do lose, you lose forever."

Frankfourth said she expects the feasibility report to be completed by the beginning of summer. The process could go on to include opinion polling and help settling on a funding mechanism to be pursued. Other communities have used mechanisms including voter-approved bond measures and -- in Washington state -- the Conservation Futures property tax.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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