Conservation district moves ahead on buying Route 64 property

MILL HALL — Conservation district board members are moving forward in talks with Clinton County Commissioners to buy the county-owned Route 64 property for $200,000.

Commissioners said they felt blindsided by the board’s announcement on July 2 that members vehemently opposed moving conservation district operations from that property to the Garden Building in downtown Lock Haven. The commissioners were planning to sell the Route 64 property for around $300,000 after the conservation district moved.

Board members had even suggested building a brand-new $600,000 building next to the Piper Building to house the conservation district rather than moving downtown.

But after a July 23 meeting between the two parties, a proposal for the conservation district to buy its own building from the commissioners emerged.

“In a nutshell, this location was offered to us for $200,000,” said Board Chairman Charlie Dotterer at the conservation district board meeting Thursday night. “Obviously, with all the external needs… of this place, we would be a little bit strapped to do it all at once… so, I think commissioners said they were open to maybe (spreading the payments out) over four years.”

The sale of the building would be contingent on a $50,000 down payment to the county, Dotterer said.

Conservation district board representatives and commissioners drafted an early copy of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to work out specifics relating to building repairs and maintenance. Commissioner Pete Smeltz said the county and the board would have to come up with a sales agreement for the transfer of property ownership.

“We were asking for (an MOU) a couple years ago, and it wasn’t the right time obviously… but I think we’re all coming together and seeing the same thing, so I think this is the way to go,” Dotterer said.

According to the early draft of the MOU, the conservation district would be responsible for all maintenance and repairs in and around the building. The only thing the two parties might share, Smeltz said, is phone and internet service, because commissioners like that the conservation district is part of the county network.

“I think there were some misconceptions,” Commissioner Jeff Snyder said. “I’m not gonna make any apologies for it: I did not like finding out just a couple of weeks prior to the public meeting that, all of a sudden, a $600,000 building was being thrown at me that was never part of the project. And I was opposed to it then and I’ll be opposed to it in the future.”

But, he said, he is not opposed to negotiating the sale of the five-acre, Route 64 property.

“We have a lot to talk about, I’m anxious for it to get started and I think it’s gonna come out very well,” he said.

On Wednesday, the conservation district board will do a walk-through of the building and property with Mike Duck, the county’s maintenance supervisor. And on Thursday, the building committee of the conservation district board will meet to discuss further action on the property sale and MOU.

“Ultimately, I think it was good that we stirred the kettle,” Dotterer said, citing the actions taken on the matter since the board voiced its dissent to the move on July 2.

Also at the meeting, Conservation District Manager Mary Ann Bower gave an update on the U.S. Geological Survey follow-up study of Fishing Creek using synoptic sampling. The conservation district dedicated $15,000 over two years for the USGS to measure nitrate in the creek on site to track its path in order to identify potential sources of contamination.

However, due to high water flow during what is supposed to be a low base flow sample period, USGS may have to delay the low flow testing until fall 2019.

The next conservation district board meeting is Sept. 13.