Project plans explained in detail at meeting

Posted August 28, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Just days after Clinton Fiscal Court narrowly voted to proceed with plans for a project to purchase land for a nature preserve area in the Wells Bottom Community, a meeting was held in the judge/executive’s office with state officials to review the Memorandum of Agreement, property appraisal issues and other items pertaining to the proposed project.

The meeting held Monday saw Judge/Executive Lyle Huff, property owners of Campbell’s Branch, LLC David Cross and Eric Dicken, County Attorney Michael Rains, County Treasurer Dallas Sidwell and Magistrate Hershell Key in attendance. They were joined by Eric Johnson and Natalie Hollaran of the state Environmental Cabinet and Elaina Morgan with the Kentucky Heritage Foundation Conservation Fund, the program that is proposing to purchase the approximately 250 acres of property. The county would in turn purchase the property with the almost $400,000 in grant funds to turn the area into a nature preserve, or conservation area for public use.

The project, in its initial stages, may take several months and will apparently need final approval by the fiscal court, who gave Judge/Executive Huff the go-ahead to proceed with the Memorandum of Agreement in a special meeting last week.

Issues discussed with the state officials last week touched on title work, the appraisal process, surveys, environmental site visits, archeological and biological studies, among others.

The KHLCF announced recently a grant to the county to purchase the property for the conservation project, in the amount of $355,500 plus an additional $40,000 in maintenance funds to be released in phases.

Cross said at last week’s informational meeting that the project would not be a burden to the county but an asset.

Following the meeting, Dicken said some plans may include setting up some type of advisory board to oversee the property, offer youth bow hunting and possibly form a Friends of Campbell’s Branch organization.

Some 25 Kentucky counties have purchased property through the KHLCF program to use as nature preserve areas, including area counties of Green, Metcalfe, Pulaski and Taylor counties.

A primary phase of the entire project is the appraisal process and whether or not the owners will accept that appraisal in order for the project to move forward.

Judge Huff also issued a letter dated in May from James McDaniel, a forester with the Kentucky Division of Forestry, saying he had spent some time on the Campbell’s Branch property and said the woodland contains “several species of trees…that are beneficial to the health of the forest wildlife populations. He also noted there were several species of forest wildflowers and concluded, “A place like this would be a benefit for all the citizens of the county for generations to come.”

The heart of the project is found in the “Preliminary Resource Management Plan,” parts of which include the following information:

“The Campbell’s Branch property consisting of 291.235 acres is located off State Highway 127 on Wells Bottom Road, Hwy. 3063. The property has 1,200 ft. road frontage on Wells Bottom Road. Approximately 40 acres is cleared with hay fields and two barns. The remaining 250 acres is woodland. It is located near the Wolf Creek Dam tailwaters where the Ky. Department of Fish and Wildlife is developing a new public bank fishing area.

Purpose: Clinton County wishes to purchase the Campbell’s Branch property for land conservation purposes and to maintain a natural habitat for several species. There will be minimal development consisting of a small parking lot, clean-up if needed, upkeep of existing trails, natural grasses sown, signage and invasive species control. Eagles have been sighted and signs of nesting have been observed. White tail deer and turkey have also been sighted on the property. The existing trails, topped with shale, rock and/or dirt will be for foot traffic only. The rock may need to be removed if deemed necessary by KHLCF. No motorized vehicles (ATV’s, etc.) will be allowed on the trails. There is a spring house on the property that is very old, perhaps historic.

When cleaning the property, no heavy equipment will be used. The spring house will be maintained for its historical and educational value.

Resource Restoration and Enhancement: The county will utilize county employees, volunteers and inmate labor to clean-up the trails and property. They will remove invasive species, if any, following KHLCF standards, and sow KHLCF approved natural grasses to encourage bob white quail habitation. These items will be completed as weather permits and as suggested by the local conservation district personnel.

An archaeological survey will be completed on the property by the University of Kentucky.

The county will…provide ongoing maintenance of the property. If prescribed burns are recommended, they will be conducted under the guidance of the local fire departments and local conservation district.

Maintenance: The county will use county employees to perform the following duties–trash removal; maintenance of trails; posting boundary signs; replacing stolen or vandalized signs; prescribed burning, if necessary; invasive species control; trail access control.

Coordination: The county will work closely with the local conservation office personnel and KHLCF staff and will follow their recommendations on needed actions to maintain the property in its natural state.

Physical Improvements: An environmentally sound parking area will be located near the property entrance that will accommodate 6-10 vehicles. This area will be constructed to accommodate users and improve safety along the adjacent roadway. The current property owners have agreed to construct the parking area.

Posts and/or fencing will be installed where there are potential problems with unauthorized vehicle access. Access will be open to the public for foot traffic only.

Signage will be installed at trail head explaining attractions on the property, such as the spring house, as well as the rules for use and the hours when open.

Public Use: Public access will be for scientific research, walking and observing. Some hunting will be permitted with the cooperation of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. It is understood that all proposed uses of the property must receive written approval from the KHLCF Board before initiating.

Restrictions: Any exploration off the trails will be limited. Hours of operation will be posed. Entrance will be blocked in the evenings to help prevent or reduce vandalism. If hunting is permitted, hunters will have to check in with a designated person to receive permission and instructions on any restrictions. Closing of the trails may be coordinated with hunting seasons to prevent accidental shootings. Restrictions and requirements set by the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund Board easement and the Final Resource Management Plan will be strictly enforced.

Monitoring: The Clinton County Judge/Executive along with a committee of county employees will meet quarterly, at first, as work is being done to meet initial goals. Then semi-annual meetings will be conducted, once in the spring and once in the fall, for planning maintenance which needs to be done during the summer months and then meet to discuss how the needs were or were not met.

Any endangered, threatened or special concern plant and animal species will be monitored with the help of the local conservation office, annually.

Trails and natural attractions within the property will be inspected on a quarterly basis by county employees to inspect safety and condition.

The certified site survey has already been done by the current land owner(s). The county will provide in-kind labor for the project.

Should the property owners accept the appraisal and the fiscal court gives final approval for the proposed project, work could apparently begin immediately, with the following timelines.

* First month: Parking lot completed; invasive species control started; signs design, location and wording in process.

* Second month: Signs printing started; trails inspection started; invasive species control continues.

* Third month: Signs installed; trails repaired and cleaned; posts or gating to prevent other than foot traffic on trails installed; invasive species controls completed.

* Fourth month: All activities complete.

Although the aforementioned project received initial approval from the fiscal court and the aforementioned meeting held, the project still has a ways to go and is still in its basic initial planning stages.

Apparently, the full Clinton Fiscal Court will have to give final approval to allow the project to proceed and take effect.

The approval of the initial phases of the proposal, even though passing the court last week, did see some apparent opposition from some magistrates and members of the public. The vote (with four of six court members present) was split among magistrates, 2-2, with Judge Huff having to cast a yes vote to break the deadlock.

The land conservation proposal, which was first brought before the court last week, created a lengthy discussion prior to the vote to proceed being taken, with a couple of the court members present being concerned as to whether or not the county could afford to maintain the property if purchased.

(A separate article on last week’s Clinton Fiscal Court meeting can be found beginning on page 1.)