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Wasatch Open Lands Board Recommends Two Million Dollars Be Given To Kohler Dairy Conservation

KohlerDairy.jpg

Wasatch Open Lands Board made a unanimous recommendation Monday evening that two million dollars of the county’s 10-million-dollar open space bond go to preservation of land on the Kohler Dairy farm. 

In November 2018 Wasatch County residents voted to issue a $10 million bond to be used for preservation of open space in the county. The bond can be used to buy development rights off of properties, meaning housing and commercial buildings can’t be placed on the land, while still allowing farmers and ranchers to use the land for agriculture in perpetuity.  

In order to make sure the funds are distributed fairly the Wasatch County Council created the Wasatch Open Lands Board to review applications for the funds and make recommendations to the county council. 

The board, made up of elected officials and citizen representatives, voted unanimously to favorably recommend two million dollars be used towards the Albert Kohler Legacy Farm project. 

The farm is 103 acres between River Road on the west, and the Provo River on the east around 1800 North. The Kohler family has operated the farm since the 1800's. Currently, they process milk and cheese on site and sell it in a red building adjacent to the proposed protected property.  The family also operates a cafe and provides tours of the cheese-making facility to local students and tourists. 

In 2019, the Kohler family signed a conservation easement agreement with Utah Open Lands for $7 million.  $4,250,000 of that has been raised from federal, state and local funds, including $1 million from Midway City in March. Utah Open Lands executive director Wendy Fisher says the project greatly leverages the county open space bond. 

“That leveraging that we've been able to account for again is a five to one leveraging,” Fisher explained. “When you think about the fact that the conservation easement isn't that full fair market value of the property—yes the land owners continue to own the land and that's part of the reason for that—but it demonstrates that there is a significant leveraging of the dollars that have come about through the open space bond.” 

Fisher notes one of the benefits of conserving the land is the public education component of the dairy farm. 

“The Kohler’s actually invite over 700 students from the Wasatch County School District to participate in having a tour of the dairy,” Fisher said. “Getting that agricultural information and education of where exactly our food does come from. It's not on those grocery stores shelves, it actually comes from agricultural landscapes like the Albert Kohler legacy farm.” 

The application process weighs 19 factors including community, educational and agricultural benefits. At-large board member Justin Keys says when they came up with the criteria he never expected a property to hit all of those checkmarks. 

“I didn’t think there was a property in our valley that hit all of those,” Keys continued. “And it's not necessary, we’re just supposed to consider the factors. But I never thought there would be one with all 19. And the Kohlers and Wendy have proved me wrong. If you review their application, you will find that they have checked every single box. I think that’s the right way to start in Wasatch County.” 

Heber City Council Member Heidi Franco chairs the Wasatch Open Lands Board, she says the Kohler Legacy farm is an ideal project. 

"Not only are we getting the development rights for those 75 homes, and a Provo River view shed, and a Midway City view shed that’s just so important, and we're saving that agricultural heritage,” Franco explained. “But we're also, in this one project, allowing other farms to continue. Through the hay purchases or the hay leases just within this valley. That is such a win win win win win you know dozens of times over in just this one project.” 

The request for two million dollars will go to the Wasatch County Council for final approval. The council will consider the item in a public hearing on July 8 at 6:00 pm. 

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