Preserving the past

Group may propose tax to help save Emerald Mountain

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— The keepers of Emerald Mountain may try to get the residents of Steamboat Springs and the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District to pitch in to save the mountain come this November. And though they are aware that they may not be able to save the entire 6,400 acres, they are prepared to try to preserve as much as possible.

According to the Emerald Mountain Partnership, the wooded slopes of the mountain are worth $17.2 million to someone just who that someone is, however, is the central question the partnership is trying to answer.

Attempts to find an individual or group willing to purchase the full parcel outright or buy the conservation easements on the land so far have fallen short. The next step may be asking the community to approve a property tax that could sunset in 10 or 20 years to pay for the land or just a portion of it.

The land is currently held by the State Land Board, which gave the partnership five years to come up with a way to preserve the area. Those five years will be up in 2005.

The land board chose

Emerald Mountain Partnership's bid for the land and will allow the group to find a way to save the land for the next four years. Once the land does get sold, the land board will take the money and use it to pay for public school education, which is its mission.

The land board currently makes about $40,000 a year on ranch leases on the land.

Partnership Chairman Ben Beall said the group will be sending out surveys within the next week or so to the residents of Steamboat and the fire protection district to ask them how much they would be willing to be taxed to pay for the mountain. They want to know if the residents are interested in putting in enough money to save the entire piece of land or if they wish to pay for only a portion of it. An advisor for the group has said that the money put up by residents could possibly be supplemented with grant money or other funds. (Based on the results of the survey, the partnership may be putting together a ballot question in the city and the fire protection district for this November.)

"Our aim is

still to preserve Emerald Mountain, but maybe we won't be able to preserve all of it," Beall said.

Susan McCannon of the State Land Board said getting residents to pay for land through property taxes is one method that has been used to preserve State Land Board land. A group in Fort Collins recently did just that, she said.

Beall was not sure how much it would cost property owners per $100,000 of assessed valuation to save different amounts of the mountain, but said the partnership will have that information by the time the survey goes out.

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