Crater doesn't come cheap

by Catherine Lutz

ARIZONA

Conservationists are close to protecting a volcanic crater and wetland near Flagstaff, Ariz. All they have to do is raise $3 million.


In March, the Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon Trust signed a land-swap deal with developers, in which the trust bought the 247-acre caldera known as Dry Lake. Developer Jim Mehen, who had first proposed a golf course and gated community in the crater in 1997, failed twice to get county approval (HCN, 10/11/99: Developer told to scale back). Instead of resubmitting a more acceptable proposal, he sat down with environmental groups and local officials to hammer out a land trade.


The deal comes after almost a year of negotiations, and attached to the land is its hefty price tag of $3 million. Grand Canyon Trust is asking for $2.5 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program to purchase lands for preservation. With the support of two of Arizona's members of Congress, the funds are likely to be approved - possibly in this fiscal year. The developers involved have agreed to pitch in $200,000 if locals contribute the remainder.


"We're all tickled," says Mehen. "We had a unique opportunity to create a win-win-win situation for everyone involved. And we did that."


"This is a tremendous victory for the community," says Geoff Barnard of Grand Canyon Trust. "Everybody gave a little, and as a community we gained a lot."


Dry Lake became the focus of a three-year grassroots campaign when rumors of the development first arose. Local activist Mary Sojourner says this is the community's first major victory against inappropriate development in this once-sleepy area. "We all woke up at the same time," she says. "It's a double victory, because we saved this phenomenal place, and we learned to work with each other."


On March 20, Coconino County supervisors gave their blessing to the deal and approved Mehen's development plans on his new property outside the crater.


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