Preserving open space deserves vote

9/29/2017 Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Editorial Board

Gallatin Count Commissioner Steve White earlier this week lauded the efforts of a pair of conservation groups that put together three conservation easements that will preserve open space. And, as he the other two commissioners approved the easements, he touted the benefits of the open space money.

“I appreciate those two organizations working this out, and it was of great benefit to the landowners,” White said.

Fair enough, but these three easements depleted the county’s open space bond funds. And White’s sentiments stand in stark contrast with his actions of last month, when he was the sole no vote on a request by the conservation groups to put a $15 million open space bond issue on the November ballot. By law, any measure that involves bonding must be approved by all three county commissioners.

 County voters approved a total of $20 million in open space bonds in 2000 and 2004. With the help of conservation groups, like the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, the Trust for Public Land and the Montana Land Reliance, that money was leveraged to get other matching funds for a total of $100 million used to preserve open space. The funds are used to pay landowners to give up development rights on their land, ensuring the land will remain as open space for perpetuity. More than 50,000 acres in Gallatin County will remain open space thanks to those two bond measures.

County residents of the future will deeply appreciate voters who acted to preserve precious open space. Gallatin County is the fastest growing county in the state. And that means pressure is on landowners to sell to builders for housing developments to meet the demands of a growing population. The need to preserve open space is more urgent now than ever.

To be clear, we’re talking about willing sellers — landowners — and a consensus of willing buyers — the voters — involved in these transactions. And the voters deserve a chance to renew this vehicle for ensuring the countryside isn’t covered pavement and houses.

 White justified denying the open space bond request by saying a new law and justice center is a priority for him. A proposal to build that center was turned down by voters last fall. If White thinks keeping a popular open space bond off the ballot will somehow persuade voters to back another law and justice center proposal, he could be sorely mistaken. In fact, it could have the opposite effect, stirring up even more opposition to the center.

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