Today in New West news: an update on Riverfront Triangle, Idaho Public Utilities Commission approves Boise solar project, and why is the Lyman Family Farm buying hundreds of acres of public land?
A week and a half a go, we reported on a proposed $150 development for downtown Missoula that aims to revitalize the city’s western half—Riverfront Triangle, bringing together a conference center, grocery store, affordable housing, retail, office space, and condominiums, among other features.
It’s a large project—indeed, one of the largest infills in Montana history—and, per the Missoulian, potentially alter the destiny of Missoula’s riverfront:
Karen Knudsen, the executive director of the nonprofit Clark Fork Coalition in Missoula, said the project is “an opening for redefining how our community interacts with, and cares for, the Clark Fork River for decades to come.”
“Right now, development and land use on the Clark Fork through the heart of Missoula reflects the ‘river-as-waste receptacle’ mindset of last century,” she wrote in a memo to city staff. “Businesses still turn away from the river, or have an industrial character that doesn’t take people, wildlife, and clean water into special account.”
However, Knudsen said that the river is cleaner and healthier than it has been in decades, with the trout fishery taking off and bird and wildlife habitat improving. She said the Riverfront Triangle project could be a defining moment and a template for how riverside growth will unfold in years to come.
She recommended that the developers create river access areas that are accessible by the public, provide amenities, install educational information about the sustainable properties of the site and interpretive signs for natural areas. She also called for building facades to be designed so that they appreciate the river.
The Clark Fork Coalition is recommending that there be a protected and enhanced native riparian buffer and a landscape with diverse native species. There should also be onsite storm water retention, pollutant filtration and porous or permeable pavement.
Knudsen also said there should be a conversation about how to finance long-term care for the river. “By most standards of measure,” she said, “the Clark Fork River corridor is emerging as one of the best opportunities for enhancing quality of life for the people who live, work, and play in Missoula.”
Bruce Farling, the executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited, also said that the city has an opportunity to repair the river on that stretch. He and his staff recommended that the garbage and trash be removed at the site, the cottonwood trees be preserved, and a horizontal filter strip of vegetation next to the trail be maintained.
“The downtown river corridor is not a lost cause, as some people allege, and we can and should improve its natural look and function,” he wrote to the city council.
Over in Idaho, according to the Idaho Business Review, the state’s Public Utilities Commission has approved Idaho Power’s application for a 500-kilowatt solar project southeast of Boise; the project would be the state’s first utility-owned solar power production facility:
The so-called community solar project that can power about 730 homes aims to attract customers who can’t install solar panels on their homes because they rent, live in communities with rules prohibiting solar panels, or have houses shaded by trees. Buying a subscription means they’re taking part in producing solar energy.
“We heard from a lot of customers who wanted to see an option like this,” said company spokesman Brad Bowlin.
The solar panels would cover an area about the size of two football fields. Most of the project’s $1.2 million construction cost would be paid by customers who take out subscriptions at $562 apiece, with completion of the project expected in June.
Idaho Power initially proposed a subscription cost of $740, with buyers getting a 3 cents per kilowatt credit.
But the commission said subscribers wouldn’t get back their investment, ultimately settling on the lower subscription fee and altering the credit so it could increase from 3 cents to 4.4 cents in 25 years.
“The record demonstrates that there is great interest and enthusiasm” for the program, the commission said in a statement.
Bowlin said the company sold about 20 subscriptions Nov. 4 despite not having done much marketing yet, and expects to eventually sell all of them. There are 1,093 subscriptions available for residential customers and another 470 for non-residential customers.
Bowlin said the number of subscriptions sold in the next 120 days will give the company a better understanding of the interest in the project.
“This is still a learning experience for us, too,” he said. “We have some assumptions and have done some research, but we really won’t know until we see those subscriptions rolling in.”
Finally, down in Utah, in late October, we reported that at an auction held by the state’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) had resulted in land included in the proposed Bears Ears National Monument, along with other beloved, parcels, being sold to the “Lyman Family Farm” for $2.24 million. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the prominent biddings two weeks ago add up to over 5,000 acres of land the Lyman Family Farm has already purchased, leaving many scratching their heads as to the organization’s intentions:
What does a company calling itself a “family farm” want with 391 unwatered acres of sandstone on Comb Ridge and many other Utah state trust parcels that have gone on the block in twice-yearly auctions?
That’s a question swirling around recent sales of state trust lands in scenic spots to a business entity launched by Utah air-ambulance entrepreneur Joe Hunt.
Acting on behalf of Lyman Family Farm, the Utah businessman, with roots in Blanding, has bought 19 state parcels around the state totaling 5,214 acres, according to an analysis compiled by the Center for Western Priorities, a group formed to oppose the transfer of public lands to the states and promote conservation of these parcels.
Hunt did not respond to a request for comment.
Hunt’s father, Blanding pilot Jon Hunt, launched Eagle Air Med in the early 1980s. The little Blanding firm was the seed that has grown into a national chain of for-profit medical-transportation services based in South Jordan. This firm’s billing and employment practices have drawn fire from critics who say it is profiting at the expense of safety and patient care.
Joe Hunt married into the Lymans, a San Juan County family descended from the Mormon pioneers who settled the region in the 1880s and remain prominent in civic and business affairs.
According to state incorporation records, Hunt established Lyman Family Farm Inc. in June 25, 2014, just a few weeks after San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman organized an ATV ride through Recapture Canyon to protest federal oversight of public lands.
Lyman Family Farm lists AMRG’s South Jordan headquarters as its address. On the day Lyman Family Farm was incorporated, it entered the high bid for its first SITLA-auctioned parcel: $350,000 for an 896-acre property owned by Utah State University straddling the Carbon and Emery county line at Horse Canyon.
Since then, Hunt, as a representative for the Lyman “farm,” has been the busiest bidder at the four most recent auctions, raising his paddle for parcels all over the state, including three 80-acre patches outside Tropic with nice views of Bryce Canyon National Park’s hoodoo cliffs.
Conservationists say the purchases are alarming and reflect their concerns about the state of Utah’s ongoing effort to obtain control of federal lands in the state, alleging that the “farm” is really a front for speculating. Meanwhile, people like Kim Christy, SITLA’s associate director, say the bidder’s intent is irrelevant, so long as they’re willing to pay. “It has been a great benefit to our beneficiaries,” Christy to the Tribune. “It is not my business to know how they want to use these properties.”