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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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10/10/2012 7:56:00 AM
Yavapai Ranch plan ignores wildlife agencies' concerns
By Joanna Dodder Nellans
Contributing Reporter

PRESCOTT -- Requests from the Prescott National Forest and Arizona Game and Fish Department didn't make it into a plan last week for the development of the huge Yavapai Ranch.

The agencies expressed strong concerns about future public access to the forest as well as negative impacts of the development on an important pronghorn antelope herd.

The Yavapai County Planning and Zoning Commission on Oct. 3 recommended approval by a 5-4 vote on a proposal for 12,500 homes and 95 acres of commercial development on the remote 51,000-acre Yavapai Ranch about 35 miles north of Prescott.

The commission's recommendation goes to the Board of Supervisors for a final vote on Nov. 5.

The commission went along with all the staff recommendations on planned area development (PAD) stipulations without adding any new ones.

The stipulations include the waiver of all county road standards. They recommend voiding a 2000 agreement that would have required a traffic study and county road standards, as well as public access to parts of the Prescott Forest including a trail. All the ranch roads are currently rated primitive.

If wording in the PAD conflicts with county planning regulations, the PAD will apply, the commission approval stated.

Yavapai Ranch owner Fred Ruskin didn't get everything he wanted, Yavapai County Development Services Director Steve Mauk said. Ruskin didn't want to contribute anything to improving Williamson Valley Road, but county staff said that wasn't acceptable, Mauk related. So Ruskin proposed an extra building permit impact fee on future residents.

Ranch development could permanently landlock nearly 80 separate 640-acre sections of the Prescott National Forest totaling as many as 50,000 acres. The forest sections are located in a perfect checkerboard pattern inside the ranch. That led Ruskin to propose the largest land exchange in Arizona history, but then he canceled it after congressional approval when he couldn't control the appraisal process.

The letters from Prescott National Forest Supervisor Betty Mathews and Game and Fish Region 3 Habitat Program Manager Trevor Buhr both express concerns about the potential for landlocked public lands with no written agreement for access.

Mathews' letter asked the county to stick to its road standards to prevent erosion problems, and facilitate access and egress in emergencies such as wildfires.

But Ruskin representative Steve Sams told the planning commission Wednesday that he met the previous day with Mathews, and Mathews wasn't versed on county road standards.

"I think it was a misunderstanding on her part of what she was asking for," Sams told the planning commission. He is a former Prescott National Forest lands staff officer who negotiated for the Forest Service on the land exchange and then joined Ruskin's team shortly after retiring from the Forest Service.

No one from the Forest Service attended the Oct. 3 meeting, but Mathews later confirmed that she had no misunderstanding.

"Steve Sams should not be speaking for me," Mathews added.

"Interior roads need to be built to some standard that addresses dust, erosion and any other watershed issues," Mathews explained after the meeting. "While it's really interior roads I'm concerned about, they do need to deal with dust issues on Williamson Valley Road, too."

Mathews' letter arrived in plenty of time for her concerns to be included in the staff recommendations.

But the Game and Fish letter arrived after county staff finished drafting the recommendations a week ahead of the commission meeting, Mauk said.

The Game and Fish letter noted strong multi-agency efforts to create the Central Arizona Grassland Conservation Strategy to protect pronghorn antelope in this region. It cited drastic decreases in pronghorn population from habitat loss and fragmentation.

"It is clear that the resident pronghorn population will be adversely impacted by this proposed development," the letter stated. "The severity of that adverse impact could be great."

The Yavapai Ranch land exchange would have put the grasslands portion of the ranch into the Prescott National Forest.

The Game and Fish letter asks the county to consider the development application a major county general plan amendment so it gets more public review.

During a break in the commission meeting, Ruskin told Game and Fish officials at the meeting that he felt their letter was not supportive so he met with the Game and Fish director as well as two Game and Fish commissioners. After that meeting, Game and Fish sent the county a second short letter saying the agency supports clustered development over unplanned lot splits.

Grasslands in northwest Yavapai County are home to 15-25 percent of the remaining Arizona pronghorn, the original Game and Fish letter stated, and they contain 30 percent of the remaining high quality habitat. Therefore the area supports one of the highest density pronghorn populations in the state.

The Yavapai Ranch development proposal could impact 114 square miles of wildlife habitat, the letter stated. Pronghorn rely on vast open spaces and are sensitive to roads, fences, development, people and pets.

The letter seeks minimal road development and asks that Game and Fish and the Prescott Forest be involved in creating the road plans.

The letter asks for minimal development in the ranch grasslands, with tightly clustered homes. It also requests minimal fencing with pronghorn-friendly design, in which the lowest wire is smooth and at least 16 inches off the ground.

Other parts of the ranch are important habitat for mule deer, elk and other wildlife species, the letter said.


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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Article comment by: Ann Rant

.

Bye Bye Verde River

.


Posted: Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Article comment by: Arizona Native

I'm so glad to hear that the overwhelming responses are addressing water and wildlife. Where in the world is the water up in that area? Don't most of the larger ranches have to truck in water as it is? And as AZ Veteran said, where is the proof of a 100 year water supply? Anthem had a 99 year lease with the tribes and although I won't be around when that note comes due, it'll be interesting to see what happens there. Will Anthem become a dried up ghost town? Is Yavapai Ranch and Prescott in general trying to become Anthem North? It's insane...we simply do NOT have the water to sustain this uncontrolled growth and the adverse affect to the Verde River and countless native species is unconscionable!

Posted: Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Article comment by: Arizona Veteran

What happened to the requirement that all new developments show a 100 year water supply? Surely the Big Chino Aquifer is already overpromised and threatens the Verde River supply. Besides, how much money does Ruskin need in this life? All of it? He should do something for the planet he lives on, not just exercise his GREED.

Posted: Monday, December 2, 2013
Article comment by: Slater slater

Follow the money.

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2012
Article comment by: nutso fasst

Questions for 'crooked politicians':

Are Carol Springer, Tom Thurman, and Bill Feldmeier from California? When was Steve Sams, previously a Prescott National Forest spokesman, first offered a job by Fred Ruskin? And why would a State Transportation Board member be testifying in a land deal? Oh, never mind on that one, he's a part owner!


Posted: Friday, October 12, 2012
Article comment by: dot franz

I agree with the first comment. This county is
tax happy. This development is for the politicians pockets. Let us destroy any remaining wilderness like California did.


Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Article comment by: crooked politicians

one more reason to vote out all of the crooked politicians in this area. i have never seen such a bunch of low lifes. these people need to be held accountable and then run out of here and back to CA where they belong. Remember this in NOV

Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Article comment by: two cents

So far I have read no mention of the impact of drilling and pumping of the BC aquifer except for the proposed housing development and eventual displacement of the antelope herds. It needs to be reitterated that the big Chino aquifer is also the main source of water to the upper Verde river. The upper Verde river is home to at least 20 protected birds, fish, reptiles and mammals, along with dozens of other species, migratory and otherwise, that depend on the health of the river for their very existance.

To ignore a shrinking but incrediby important eco-system for central and northern Arizona for an unneeded, unfeasible, wasteful and unsustainable use of water, and the destruction of natural habitat, is just wrong. The health of all animals and people near the stagnant and concentrated bacteria filled soup will be at risk. The irrigation will turn the river into seperate pools of smelly,mosquito producing swamp. I hope common sense prevails in this situation and a compromise can be worked out with Mr. Ruskin that will ensure the health and safety of the middle portion of this state. It is not just money or water or developement at stake here. What is at stake here is morality and that same thing we try to teach our children,knowing the difference between right and wrong.


Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Article comment by: The Captain Elcapatain

I have been reading about this land use/development plan/idea now since it came up several years ago. Yavapai Ranch has been good to us hunters by allowing us to travel and hunt in the ranch area, and I say "thank you". We hear about a huge windmill farm up near the I-40. We hear about a pie in the sky idea to produce power in the CV Ranch area. Now we hear about a 12,500 single family homes and 95 acres of commerical development at Yavapai Ranch?? Are these owners going soft in the head with the hope of getting their hands on some big money? Is there any/enough money to bring these proposals to completion? There is not enough wind in the I-40 area to make the wind farm work. There isn't enough available water in the CV and Yavapai Ranch area to bring any of these ideas off. Does Mr. Ruskin and his employee Steve Sams propose to drill 12,500 wells on a relative dry ranch? They are 35 miles above Prescott, there are some 3 to 4 thousand home sites waiting to be developed, close to town, These probably won't happen because the economy is going to hell in a handbasket, and the need for water, power and infrastrusture (sewer,streets,flood control, phone and tv) are just the obvious items that pop up when considering development. We heard about a land exchange-where? The land exchange at the Aqua Fria Ranch failed so it was sold to the AZ Fish and Game, colleges, Antelope Assn., and even the Sierra Club for 1.5 Million. They have 7 thousand acres and 70 thousand acres of grazing rights, and it will look the same for many years.
This article by Joanna Nellans should be read and re-read to get the total impact on hunting and access to other areas. Betty Mathews of the Prescott National Forest and Trevor Bahr of the AZ Fish and Game, need to be heard and their many points should be considered to block this project. Fred Ruskin should be called King Ruskin because he wants things his way, and if he doesn't like it, he takes his ball and goes home. Him and his employee Sams are blowing smoke up all of our asses. They can't bring this thing off even if it is approved.
Williamson Valley Road needs to be improved and paved, all the roads in the ranch are rated as primitive and nothing is said about needing access to the power lines against the rear mountains. The area should not have "minimal" standards required and needs more public review.
This land use should not be approved for many reasons, if not only for the Antelope. In other states, development was not allowed because of a lizard, a spider or bird. Here we have at least three animal species affected.
Ruskin could give the ranch to the State for a write off, his family wouldn't have to pay taxes for a hundred years. His proposed idea for the land is thin and he will not bring it off as proposed. The approval should be shelved for a later date, or put on the County ballot for approval. The article brings up a lot of possible pay off set ups, with a lot of people getting a little white envelope with a group of Ben Franklins inside.
The final vote should be "no"!!!


Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Article comment by: Shouldn't there be an Enviromental Impact Report done

on this big of a project in a rural area? This subdivision was ram rodded thru the county without consideration of water sources or wildlife. The impact on the Verde and wildlife may be devastating.



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