Central Arkansas Water commissioners voted this morning to approve a lease-purchase agreement of 917 acres, the Winrock Grass Farms property owned by Jay DeHaven and investors, for between $3.4 million and $7.4 million. The state has appropriated $4 million, Game and Fish will kick in $1 million toward the property, appraised at $12.4 million. CAW is hoping a $4 million forestry grant will keep its contribution at the minimum.
There has been some concern over that $12.4 million appraisal. Initially, the land was appraised at $5.4 million. Some Lake Maumelle advocates questioned whether CAW was getting a raw deal. In today's meeting, Chris Demming of the Trust for Public Lands (TPL), the non-profit who will make the innitial purchase which will be paid back by CAW some time next year, explained the difference in the two estimates. The second appraisal, Demming said, took into account features of that piece of property that provided recreational possibilities, views of the lake, a two and a half-mile stretch of river, road access, existing power and water lines, plus other unique features of the land that made it more valuable. CAW CEO Graham Rich said they had seen similar differences in appraisals of other parcels of land in the watershed and that the final amount ($13,550 per acre) was reasonable and consistent with previous purchases.
Supporters of the lease-purchase agreement were on hand including representatives from the Arkansas Forestry Department and Sen. Bob Johnson, who worked with the legislature to secure state funds to help CAW with the purchase of this land. Barry Haas, who has been a long-time advocate for the watershed was also present. He said the purchase of this land was absolutely vital but wanted to make sure the deal was fair.
The board members approved the lease-purchase agreement unanimously. Afterward, Rich and other CAW executives seemed very happy with the agreement and all thought this was the best deal CAW was likely to find and giant leap forward in protecting the watershed.