County Looking To Recoup Placer Legacy Investment With Interest

The Placer County Board of Supervisors gave its stamp of approval Tuesday to a transaction that will ensure the ongoing conservation of 320 acres of farmland, riparian habitat, valley grasslands and vernal pools while allowing the county to recoup its initial investment in the property with interest.

Aitken Ranch, the property in question, is located north of East Catlett Road and west of Fiddyment Road west of Lincoln.

In 2000, Placer County acquired an agricultural conservation easement over Aitken Ranch for $399,000. The deal was the first made under the umbrella of the county’s award-winning Placer Legacy Open Space and Agricultural Conservation Program.

“It was a great start to an excellent program,” explained board Chairman Robert M. Weygandt, “and now we will be fully repaid with interest so we can reuse the money.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, board members voted unanimously to approve plans for removing the county’s conservation easement so the property can be used as a mitigation bank by Wildlands Inc., a habitat development, land management and environmental planning company based in Rocklin.

The new use has been approved by federal and state regulatory agencies. The county’s conservation easement will be replaced with a habitat conservation easement for the new use.

A conservation or mitigation bank is privately or publicly owned land managed for its natural resource values. In exchange for permanently protecting the land, the bank is allowed to sell habitat credits to public agencies and developers who need to mitigate for environmental impacts created by infrastructure and development projects. Conservation banks generally protect the habitats of threatened or endangered wildlife and mitigation banks typically establish new habitat values through the restoration, creation and enhancement of wetlands.

The 2000 Aitken Ranch deal contemplated the possibility that the property would eventually be used as a mitigation or conservation bank.

Under the transaction approved by the board Tuesday:

* Placer County will receive more than $576,000: $399,000 as reimbursement for its original investment and approximately $177,000 in interest.
* The county will be granted a 30-foot-wide access easement along Auburn Ravine for possible use as a multipurpose trail. The trail easement will be available for public use if a trail is created between Aitken Ranch and Highway 65. Vehicles would not be allowed on the Aitken Ranch trail.
* Habitat credits from Aitken Ranch will offset environmental impacts from construction of the Highway 65 Bypass.
* The new habitat conservation easement will be held by the Wildlife Heritage Foundation.

In a report to the board, county staff noted the foundation is one of 16 organizations accredited in California by the Land Trust Alliance and has a history of successful stewardship in Placer County.

The staff report emphasizes that the new habitat conservation easement will provide at least the same level of protection to agricultural uses and natural resources as the county’s existing agricultural conservation easement.