Federal funding would help with purchase if group can negotiate deal
The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust has been awarded $300,000 in federal funding to purchase, restore and preserve more than 600 acres along Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee River in Ozaukee and Washington counties, including parcels in the City of Port Washington and Town of Grafton.
Land Trust Executive Director Shawn Graff declined to discuss specific details of the two parcels or comment on whether they are part of the former VK Development holdings on Port’s far south side because of ongoing negotiations, but he said the properties are on and near the lakefront and important to the organization’s efforts to preserve migratory bird habitat.
The grant, which is being awarded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under its Great Lakes Watershed Habitat and Species Restoration Initiative Grants Program using funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, is intended to fund the preservation of migratory bird habitat, which is one of the priorities of the Land Trust.
“Undeveloped areas along the Great Lakes are some of the most important places in North America for migrating birds,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber said. “This initiative supports local land protection efforts and leverages funding to conserve the nature of the Great Lakes for wildlife and for people.”
Graff said the grant is another in a series of successful efforts to secure federal funding for local land restoration and preservation.
“We’re really excited about this because it will help us continue our work creating and preserving native and migratory bird habitats,” he said. “I’m proud of the fact our small organization has been successful in winning several federal grants for local preservation efforts. I think it shows that federal agencies have confidence that we can accomplish our goals.”
The Land Trust has been successful in preserving environmentally important parcels along the Lake Michigan migratory bird flyway, most notably the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve — a former golf course in the Town of Belgium — and Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve in the Town of Grafton.
The City of Port Washington and Town of Grafton parcels the Land Trust is targeting for preservation would add to those key lakefront holdings, but just because the organization has been awarded a grant to help finance the purchase of these properties doesn’t mean it will be able to acquire them. Graff said the Land Trust continues to negotiate the purchase of the land but there is considerable work to be done.
The Land Trust intends to use $150,000 of the grant money to help fund the purchase of three parcels totalling about 200 acres in Washington County and three parcels totalling 400 acres in Ozaukee County. State funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, which the Land Trust has been tentatively awarded for the purchase of some of the parcels, and private contributions would also be used to finance the purchases.
The remaining $150,000 in funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would pay for restoration efforts on the land.
Negotiations for the purchase of the Washington County properties are essentially complete and the purchases are expected to be finalized by the end of the year, Graff said.
The Land Trust hopes to be to able finalize the purchase of one of the Ozaukee County parcels — agricultural land along a Milwaukee River tributary in Mequon — by the middle of 2015.
But there is far less certainty regarding the parcels in the City of Port Washington and Town of Grafton. Graff said one of the properties is on the lakefront while the other is set back about a quarter mile.
Although Graff would not confirm the parcels are part of or adjacent to the former VK Development land, it’s no secret that the Land Trust is interested in preserving much of this land.
Last year, the Land Trust announced it had created a powerful coalition that included The Nature Conservancy and Ozaukee County to purchase and preserve much of the land once owned by the Brookfield developer.
That land, which is on the City of Port Washington’s far south side primarily east of Highway C, was annexed into the city more than 12 years ago to accommodate what was to be Port Vincent, a sprawling upscale development complete with lakefront mansions and a resort hotel named for the development company’s owner Vincent Kuttemperoor.
VK Development, however, never broke ground and eventually banks acquired the property through foreclosure. In the midst of an economic recession, there was little interest in the property, which was priced at $18 million last year, until the Land Trust proposed a publicly owned nature preserve on the site of what was once to be a luxury subdivision.
The plan appeared to have life at the time. Ozaukee County was prepared to contribute $600,000 toward the purchase of the property and seemed amenable to assuming ownership of the preserve, much like it did with Lion’s Den Gorge Preserve.
City of Port Washington officials, however, bristled at the thought of more than 200 acres of prime residential real estate, which includes nearly one mile of Lake Michigan shoreline, being set aside for preservation.
Ultimately, city officials and Land Trust representatives reached an agreement that would allow for the preservation of the most environmentally sensitive areas and residential development elsewhere on the land.
But progress beyond that has bogged down in negotiations with Waukesha State Bank, which owns much of the land, as well as others, Graff said.
“We’re making progress, but it’s a slow process because we’re negotiating with multiple parties, not just the bank,” Graff, who would not elaborate on the negotiations, said Tuesday. “We are, however, still optimistic.”