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Editorial: Conservation is an intriguing option

When the Farmington School Board talked Monday night about the possibility of a conservation easement on part of the land it owns in Castle Rock Township, the focus was on doing the right thing. There just wasn't always agreement on what the right thing was.

Does doing the right thing mean protecting the district's flexibility should it ever want to sell the property it originally bought as the site of a new high school? Or does it mean playing a role in protecting the environment now and into the future.

In this case, we tend to believe it's the latter. The land in question, about 37 acres in the flood plain of a branch of the Vermillion River, can not be developed. And while there is nothing going on now that is likely to do damage, Dakota County's Al Singer pointed out Monday that not doing harm is not the same thing as doing good. Putting the property in a conservation easement would open doors to new funding sources that could help make the property better for the environment and, ultimately, better for the community and for the district's students, whether or not a school is ever built on the developable land to the north.

The Southern Dakota County Sportsmen's Club, the group that got this discussion moving, has already had success with a preservation project on the grounds of the Dakota County Fair. Known as the Big Slough, the area is a unique habitat for wildlife and a great place to take a walk. It would be nice to see an expansion of that. There has already been talk about contacting the owner of land between the fairgrounds and the district's property, part of an effort to protect an expanded corridor of the river.

There are certainly other considerations at work here. If the easement would do actual harm to the district's interests, then moving forward makes no sense. But Singer suggested Monday that creating a natural area could actually increase the value of the rest of the property should the district ever choose to sell to a developer. People like living near natural areas.

There are details to work out still, but we're happy to see that at least the conversation will take place.