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School District 192 board talks land use

A pair of proposed easements with very different purposes could affect activity on a piece of school district-owned property in Castle Rock Township.

Farmington School Board members heard information at a Monday night workshop meeting about two separate requests to buy easements on 176-acre property the school district originally bought as a site for the high school that ended up on the west side of the city. One is for a high-voltage power line that would run along the south side of the property. The other is for a conservation easement around a branch of the Vermillion River.

The two easements would not be mutually exclusive.

The power line easement is part of what is known as CAPX2020, a project that will ultimately include several new lines running across the state. The easement on the school district property would take up approximately six acres.

The CAPX group has offered the district $50,000 for the easement. That is more than the $37,900 a November appraisal estimated the easement was worth.

School board members expressed some concern about the possibility of a school eventually being built near the power line, but finance director Carl Colmark said the district would not build in the area where the power line is located, even if the line didn't go through.

The district is scheduled to act on the CAPX easement at its March 25 meeting.

The other proposed easement, which will take longer to decide on and could potentially affect a much larger portion of the property, was likely familiar to many of the board members. Dakota County first came to the school district last June to propose a permanent conservation easement for at least 36 acres and possibly as many as 86 acres of undevelopable land along a stretch of the Vermillion River's south fork. That easement would prevent development in that area. It would also open the door to grants the district and Dakota County could use to restore habitat along the river.

Dakota County and the Dakota County Sportsmen's Club have done other habitat restoration projects nearby and are working to preserve an extended stretch of the river.

"We're trying to establish this corridor that has both water quality and wildlife habitat benefits," said Al Singer, manager of Dakota County's farmland and natural areas preservation efforts.

Much of the land in that area was swamp before it was drained for farming, and Singer said wetland is what makes the most sense if the land is restored.

Singer said it makes sense to protect the land now while it is owned by a public entity.

"This project would be a good representative example of walking the talk," he said.

Singer and Dakota County watershed specialist Travis Thiel presented three proposed easements Monday. The first protects a relatively narrow band along the river. The other two get progressively larger. The smallest option would bring the district an estimated $58,000. The largest option has a $312,000 price tag.

Opting for the easement would come with a cost for the district, though. Singer said the county expects the owners of protected land to pay at least some of the cost associated with restoring the property to its natural state. Just how expensive that would be depends on the work that is done.

In June, superintendent Jay Haugen called the protected land a "wonderful opportunity to get kids outside."

The district bought the Castle Rock property as the first site for its new high school. It has been renting the land for $22,000 per year to a farmer who is growing crops on it.