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Larimer mulls how to sell parcels damaged in 1976 flood

FORT COLLINS — Larimer County commissioners were unanimous at a Wednesday work session in their support of a plan presented by the county’s Department of Natural Resources about how to divest many of the parcels it acquired in the wake of the devastating 1976 flood in the Big Thompson Canyon and the subsequent 2013 flood.

“This looks like a win-win for the county and the landowners,” said board chair Jody Shadduck-McNally.

The July 31,1976, flood killed 144 people after a thunderstorm stalled over the area and dumped about 12 inches of rain in a few hours, creating a wall of water that scoured the narrow canyon. After the disaster, Larimer County acquired more than 160 substantially damaged parcels in the canyon, which now are managed by the county’s DNR.

Since then, other key parcels were acquired by the department to provide public access and protect the health of the Big Thompson River. Some of the county-owned parcels comprise the Sleepy Hollow, Forks, Narrows and Glade public-access parks, but the rest are dotted throughout the canyon, and private landowners whose properties adjoin the tracts have approached the county about buying them.

The September 2013 deluge triggered more flooding in the canyon and again disrupted public access to the river. Two years later, the county and its land-management agency partners developed the Big Thompson Recreation and Conservation Assessment, which outlined how and where to best reinstate public access and identified the need to consider divestment of certain county-owned parcels that don’t contribute substantially to the health of the river or the county’s public-recreation goals.

Since then, the DNR staff and the county’s Open Lands Advisory Board felt the need to further outline which parcels to sell to private interests and which to keep in public ownership – as well as terms of sale and a process for divestment.

As presented Wednesday by county DNR director Daylan Figgs and two members of his staff, the county will look at a parcel’s degree of naturalness and ecological importance, its potential for public access and resulting benefit, how sustainable the tract would be for county management, and whether it’s isolated or connected to other parcels.

An example of such a sale, Figgs told county commissioners, could be a case where a leach field for a private landowner’s septic system is on county property.

If parcels are sold under the plan, the DNR staff said, the buyer would have to be willing to accept the county’s stipulations, which include that no temporary or permanent above-ground structures can be built upon the parcel. The tract can’t be further subdivided, no camping or long-term parking of vehicles or equipment would be allowed, and no storage of any kind would be permitted. The tracts could be used for continued public walk-in use for such activities as fishing and watching wildlife, but no specific amenities or facilities would be allowed.

If a parcel proposed for sale meets those criteria, it would be brought to an executive session for initial review by the Open Lands Advisory Board and county board of commissioners. The value would be based on best approximate comparison sales and negotiated with the buyer.

“We wouldn’t seek an appraisal unless the buyer requested one, and at their cost,” Figgs said.

Once a contract is signed, a final review would be held in a public session of the Open Lands Advisory Board, which would make a recommendation to the county commissioners for a final decision.

Shadduck-McNally and commissioners John Kefalas and Kristin Stephens expressed support for the criteria, which will be presented at a future regular meeting of the board for final approval.

Source: BizWest