by SEAN BATURA
Efforts to more than double the size of San Marcos’ Purgatory Creek Natural Area were frustrated last week when the federal government opted not to award a $1.9 million land acquisition grant to the Trust for Public Land.
The Trust for Public Land was seeking a federal Section 6 Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition Grant to buy a 289-acre parcel just west of the Purgatory Creek Natural Area.
Scott Parker, trust’s senior program director, said the pool of grant money was smaller this year than previous years and competition was exceptionally high.
“We are increasing our outreach to foundations and to private donors to support the project in the absence of federal funding,” Parker said.
The trust is trying to raise money to buy the 289-acre tract as well as an adjacent parcel of approximately 312 acres in the next two years. The combined 601 acres would more than double the 463-acre Purgatory Creek Natural Area, which is owned by the city. The city would likely manage and hold title to the full 1,064 acres, officials have said.
Parker said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is very likely to award TPL a Section 6 grant by the time TPL secures funding for the 289-acre tract and has moved on to seek the second parcel.
“The funding for the second phase will be through the Hays County (Regional) Habitat Conservation Plan, for which, we hope, there is more available federal funding,” Parker said. “But that won’t be known until Congress comes up with a budget.”
Fish & Wildlife has yet to fully approve Hays County’s Regional Habitat Conservation Plan, Laureen Chernow, the county’s spokesperson, said on Aug. 12. The habitat conservation plan calls for the county to eventually acquire or create conservation easements for between 10,000 and 15,000 acres for the Golden-Cheeked Warbler or Black-Capped Vireo. The county’s holdings will allow developers to buy credits to offset the impact on the endangered species on property on which they want to build.
Land acquisition projects in areas covered by an RHCP stand a better chance of receiving Section 6 grants, officials say.
Parker said he has no “hard numbers” regarding the total cost of acquiring the 601 acres. He said, “The values are subject to appraisal and appraisal discussions are underway.”
In October 2010, the trust estimated fair market value of the 601 acres was $8.5 million. The 289-acre tract is owned by a Marian Posey, appraisal records show, who lists an address on McCarty Lane. The adjoining 311-acre tract is owned by a Claud Wildenthal, who uses a Dallas address, according to appraisal records.
In December 2010, Hays County awarded the trust $800,000 in bond funds to help acquire the additional acreage for the PCNA. Additional funds could come from the City of San Marcos, the Edwards Aquifer Authority, and private donors. Carma Texas offered $300,000 to help purchase the 289-acre tract in lieu of dedicating more parkland for its Paso Robles development in San Marcos.