Nature org. to get land sale profits



Just over two years after Yale announced its intention to donate profits from the sale of a Colorado investment property to the Nature Conservancy, the sale will close, transferring the ownership of the Baca Ranch to the Nature Conservancy, an environmental group that focuses on conservation.

Yale was an investor in the partnership that owned the approximately 97,000-acre Baca Ranch, which lies adjacent to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve in the San Luis Valley. The Nature Conservancy will own the property until the federal government is able to purchase it and join it with the National Monument and Preserve.

The addition of the Baca Ranch will nearly double the size of the Great Sand Dunes Monument and Preserve, allowing for it to be redesignated as a national park. National parks are larger and contain more ecological biodiversity than monuments.

The gross revenue from the sale, which is expected to close in early February, was $15 million. President Richard Levin said the profits to Yale from the sale were far below that — between $1 and $2 million. Yale will be donating $1.5 million to the Nature Conservancy. Audrey Wolk, the director of marketing for the Colorado Nature Conservancy program, said the money will be used to help pay down the organization’s debt on another adjacent property, a portion of which may eventually become part of the national park.

“The money will go to the Nature Conservancy, and we can theoretically do whatever we want with it. There are no restrictions,” Wolk said.

Farallon Capital Management, the outgoing owner of the Baca Ranch, wanted to develop the aquifer underneath the land. Steve Chaney, the superintendent of the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve, said the owners of the ranch believed that there was still water in the aquifer that could be developed and had always intended to make a profit.

“The previous owner’s intent was to sell the water to either a municipality or whoever would buy it,” Wolk said.

While the owner’s aim of selling the water beneath the Baca Ranch never came to fruition, it embroiled Yale in controversy. Two years ago, when research by Yale unions revealed Yale’s partial ownership of the Baca Ranch, Coloradans were actively fighting to stop any further development of the aquifer, which they thought was already overdeveloped and overappropriated.

“It was costing the community and the taxpayers millions of dollars every year to fend off those efforts to develop that ground water,” Chaney said.

At that point, Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo. intervened, meeting with Levin, Chaney said. Less than 24 hours after Yale’s involvement was criticized by Colorado residents and politicians, Yale agreed to donate the profit it would make from the sale of the ranch to the Nature Conservancy.

“Since it became so controversial — rather than take a profit, we would allow ourselves to break even and allow the profits to be used for conservation purposes,” Levin said.

Since then, the buyers and the outgoing owners have worked to arrange the legal details involved in the transfer of the property. Wolk said the tentative closing date is Feb. 10, although it could be pushed back.

“In order for us to buy this ranch, we have to make sure that the federal government will still buy it, which they will,” Wolk said. “They’re reviewing all of the legal documents on it they need to say okay.”

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000 authorized the federal government to acquire the Baca Ranch. The Nature Conservancy will own the ranch until the federal government can purchase it for approximately $32 million. Chaney said the government is currently short between $3 and $4 million but expects that money to be appropriated to the park in the 2005 budget cycle. Wolk expects the Nature Conservancy to transfer ownership of the Baca Ranch to the Great Sand Dunes Monument in about a year.

The national monument is currently home to the largest sand dunes in North America, and Wolk said protecting the underground water from further development will help to preserve one of the most ecologically rich systems in Colorado.

“It’s a really great feel,” Wolk said. “It’s been really rewarding for all of us to work together in partnership to see this protected, and for the local community in particular.”

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