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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mountain for sale, portion of Mt. Konocti offered to county

By Elizabeth Wilson--Record-Bee staff
LAKE COUNTY -- A significant portion of Mt. Konocti has been offered for sale to the county in an effort by property owner Mike Fowler to preserve the land, which officials agree is the most significant landmark in the county, along with Clear Lake.

The Fowler family has owned the property for approximately 50 years, Peter Windrem, the family's attorney said. The 1,700 acre, 9-parcel property is being sold to divide an inheritance between Fowler and his sister.

A "great number" of parties have shown interest in the property, including developers and private organizations. But the family is keen on retaining the property in its natural state, and has offered the county the first shot at ownership. The county was given two years from last month to close the deal before the property goes to the open market, Windrem said.
The county first heard about the availability of the property last summer, and during the August budget hearings, the Board of Supervisors gave the go-ahead for county officials to spend staff time on the project to acquire the property.

A meeting was held Dec. 12 in which county leaders invited a consortium of interested parties to discuss a group approach for the purchase, which will require extensive funds the county does not have.

Representatives from the Lake County Land Trust, Sierra Club, Supervisor Rob Brown, Clear Lake State Park and several county government officials were invited. The group reached a consensus as to the importance of acquiring the mountain for preservation, with the goal of public ownership including public access and trail development. The county is taking the lead in pursuing the sale, headed by County Public Services Director Kim Clymire.

"This is being spearheaded by the county, and we will take whatever role is important. We're willing to work on grants. We do see this as a consortium of people, not just one entity. It will take a larger group to do this project, particularly given the time frame," Lake County Land Trust executive director Susanne Scholz said.

Another meeting will be held next week, and the interested groups in the consortium, including the Land Trust, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Sierra Club, plan to discuss options. A key element in moving forward with plans is an appraisal of the property. The county does not yet have a dollar figure, but expects one soon. The appraisal is being conducted by a private firm, Windrem said.

"We need to know the actual price to know if it's in the realm of possibility, we'll not be able to pay more than fair market value. The county certainly doesn't have the ability to do this on our own we've talked about a whole list of funding sources. I was really glad to hear everyone strongly in support of this, because we need their help. The county hasn't undertaken anything this large, literally," County Administrative Officer Kelly Cox said.

"Mt. Konocti is Lake County's signature view. I think people will be in support of the project, particularly if it allows public access and hiking trails. A lot of people think it is already preserved. They don't realize how much of it is in private ownership," Scholz said.

Rich Burns, field manager in the BLM Ukiah office oversees properties in Lake County along with nine other counties. The BLM owns just over 1,000 acres on Mt. Konocti, including the Black Forest. Burns said he could see the Mt. Konocti project turning into a grassroots effort like the one that helped preserve the Black Forest from logging.

The property for sale would connect the Black Forest with the mountain's peaks, including Wright Peak, Howard Peak, South Peak and Buckingham Peak. The property begins on the east side of the mountain, including walnut orchards and the "horse" (a horse shaped orchard) and extends to Soda Bay road above Konocti Bay.

The process of making an offer on the property and discussing its terms will be a complicated one, Kim Clymire said, but not an impossible task to complete in two years' time.
Windrem said the Fowler family wants retain a portion of the property that includes their home and communication tower sites. The sale would incorporate a conservation easement on that part of the property that would prevent any possible development in the future, even if Fowler were no longer the owner. "If Michael were to convey a conservation easement, it would restrict his land and be consistent with the adjacent property (that the county is interested in)," Windrem said.

Supervisor Rob Brown said he thinks his constituents will be "overwhelmingly" in support of a publicly-owned Mt. Konocti. "I'm very critical of the government buying more land, but this would be an exception. What we need to do is identify a reasonable purchase amount and be cognizant of the fact that this is tax payer's money, and make sure the public benefit outweighs the cost of the project," Brown said.

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