Purchase of a conservation easement on 12 acres of farmland at the north end of Corrales is expected to be approved at the June 16 Village Council meeting. Exactly which tract would be preserved in perpetuity as farmland or green belt open space was not identified as of June 1.
“I would prefer not to identify the property or owner yet since the deal isn’t done and neither party has 100 percent committed,” said Michael Scisco of Unique Places LLC who is negotiating the arrangement. “But I can say that it is a 12-acre property on the north side of Corrales, and will use up a little under half of the available bond funding.
“The property will have a public wildlife viewing platform looking over the irrigation portions of the farm.” At the Village Council teleconference meeting May 26, Mayor Jo Anne Roake said a recommendation on the transaction from the Corrales Farmland Preservation and Agriculture Commission will be considered at the June 16 session.
Corrales voters approved $2.5 million in general obligation bonds for farmland preservation in March 2018. This will be the first use of the new round of GO bonds; villagers’ first bonds to save farmland from development, also for $2.5 million, were approved in 2004. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXIII No. 14 September 11, 2004 “Corrales Approves Bonds to ‘Save Farmlands’ By 5-to1 Margin.”)
With the new easement, Corrales will have about 50 acres protected. The first such easement established was a private transaction by Jonathan Porter in 2001 on six acres at the south end of the Corrales Valley. At the May 26 council meeting, the Village’s bond counsel, Jill Sweeney, said funds from the GO bond sale should be available in August.
Scisco said May 27 that he hopes to be able to purchase other conservation easements with the remainder of the $2.5 million by the end of 2021.”We have a few other projects in development, but they are nowhere near ready for prime time, and with COVID, it has slowed everything down. We are lucky to have the one project to work on during these times.”
Applications from Corrales landowners to take advantage of the remaining bond money are still being accepted at the Village Office. Twelve acres of prime soil east of the Wagner family’s corn maze at the north end of the valley went on the real estate market back in 2017. When a realtor’s “for sale” sign went up on the Trosello tract north of Alary Farm in early February that year, it produced a flurry of concerned conversation, community determination and strategizing.
Since then, members of the Corrales Farmland Preservation and Agricultural Commission have discussed with the landowners options for bringing at least part of that 30-acre tract under conservation easement.
The children and grandchildren of Gus and Arlene Wagner have expressed interest in the Trosello tract which they have leased and cultivated for nearly 40 years. Jim Wagner told Corrales Comment February 16, 2017 he would like to acquire the entire acreage and put a conservation easement on it. He noted the 12 acres then on the market were just phase one of the proposal to convert it all to home sites. He said retaining that tract as farmland would be a great asset, not just for Corrales, but for the larger metropolitan area. “It is really good fertile soil, and it has good irrigation from the river water. It makes good food!”
Wagner said Corrales had recently lost another tract of good farmland to developers. He was trying to buy the seven-acre tract just north of the Trosello land, the Gruber property, but RayLee Homes bought it instead. Lisa Brown, co-chair of the Farmland Preservation Commission, can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The drive to save the Trosello tract should appeal not just to people who support local agriculture, she said, but to those who value open space, bird watching, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities, including trail links into the Bosque Preserve.
In 2004, Corrales became the first municipality in the state to approve general obligation bonds specifically to fund farmland preservation. Proceeds from the sale of those bonds were used as the local match for grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) program helped bring more than 34 acres of farmland here under conservation easement, including the outright purchase of 5.5 acres of the Gonzales farm field west of Wells Fargo Bank. In 2010, a new, presumably permanent source of funding for farmland preservation efforts was created by the N.M. Legislature.
Then-Governor Bill Richardson signed into law the 2010 Natural Heritage Conservation Act which was seen as an effective tool in Corrales’ efforts to save farmland for agricultural use rather than letting it go to home sites. It could also have helped fund historic preservation efforts here.
“Under the Natural Heritage Conservation Act that I signed today, New Mexico for the first time will have a permanent mechanism for funding conservation projects across the state,” the governor said. “I am also pleased that we were able to secure nearly $5 million for restoration projects and conservation easements, so we will be able to start funding these important initiatives right away.”
Corrales has not applied for grants from that initial funding.