Floaters, birders and dog trainers can all rest easy knowing 50 acres of prime open space is safe in perpetuity after the Missoula City Council approved a conservation easement Monday night.
The council, along with County Commissioners Dave Strohmaier and Jean Curtiss, unanimously approved spending up to $12,000 to add 43 acres of conservation lands on the banks of the Bitterroot River.
The property was donated by Western Montana Retriever Club, and will join seven acres of conservation easement donated by the club in 1989.
The former gravel pit is now a lush wetland, according to Five Valleys Land Trust Project Manager Sarah Richey, and is home to more than 15 species of birds and two rare native Montana plants.
Retriever Club Board President June Lederer said the land was owned by two of the club’s founders over 60 years ago, who leased it for use training retrievers to hunt.
“We don’t know if the club is going to be around in 60 years, but we want this land to stay protected,” Lederer said.
Although public money will pay for the care of the easement, the Retriever Club didn’t agree to public access, though they generally allow bird watchers and naturalists onto the property with permission, according to Lederer.
Most council members were OK with the lack of public access, citing the ban on development of the area and the views it will provide to floaters on the Bitterroot River and nearby residents.
Ward 4 representative Jon Wilkins was less sure, though he voted in favor.
“You know I’m always happy to support things like this, but I’m starting to have second thoughts,” Wilkins said. “The public’s benefiting in a way, but not totally.”
The purchase leaves the city with just over $490,000 left from the 2006 Open Space bond.
The council also passed a resolution reaffirming its commitment to climate action in light of President Donald Trump’s recent proposal to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.
In 2013, the city adopted the Conservation & Climate Action Plan, with the goal of carbon neutrality by 2025.
In 2016, the city adopted the Zero Waste Resolution, with the goal of reducing landfill materials by 90 percent by 2050.
In the days after President Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris accord, the Mayors National Climate Change Agenda, made up of 292 U.S. Mayors including Missoula Mayor John Engen, signed a commitment to “adopt, honor and uphold Paris Climate Agreement goals.”
Missoula, along with Bozeman and Whitefish, are the only partner cities in Montana.
The council also approved a contract with FCS, a financial consulting group from Redmond, Washington, for rate studies on the city’s three water systems: wastewater, storm water and the newly-acquired Missoula Water.
The study, which will cost $172,705, is the first since the 1980s, according to Public Works Director John Wilson.
“It’s been so long, we need to recalibrate,” Wilson told the Public Works Committee on July 21.
Wastewater rates will likely rise, Wilson said, as will storm water. Water rates will stay level until 2021, according to the city.
The study will give the city a good idea of base rates based off cost-of-service, Wilson said, and will recommend several years of increases.
Due to the Independence Day holiday, City Council won’t meet July 3 for their Monday meeting or July 6 for committee meetings.