The Story County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a payment to re-acquire about 200 acres of land from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the deal coming more than half a century after the Corps took over the land.
The three board members unanimously approved the allocation of $152,300 to send to the Corps to eventually regain possession of the strip of acreage between Ames and Story City. Board Chair Rick Sanders told the Tribune over the summer the county and the Corps of Engineers were getting closer to arriving at a final number, and the Corps sent a memorandum of understanding to the county in September.
The county’s undertaking to get the land back began in the early 1970s, Sanders said. The Corps acquired the land in the 1960s as Interstate 35 was under construction, planning to connect Ames and Story City with the interstate. When I-35 was built further east, the next course of action was to create a reservoir — Ames Lake — in that space, but that project also never materialized.
Since then, however, the Corps of Engineers has kept the land, allowing several developments to be built and only now agreeing to cede it back to the county.
“Every single person from the Corps who started out working on this project with us is now retired,” Sanders said. “We’ve got a whole new team; I’m serious.”
Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds requested the funds, and said the federal government should finish its work on the land within two years. When it gets the land back, the county will enter into a preservation covenant with the State Historic Preservation office, too, she said. The strip of land adjacent to the interstate crosses the South Skunk River twice, and Sanders said it would fall under the control of Story County Conservation, which could work to improve access to the river.
The board Tuesday decided the $152,300 would have to come out of the county’s general fund budget. Lisa Markley, the county’s assistant auditor in charge of finance, called the spending “minimal,” the funds coming from a pot of about $5.2 million. Markley said she planned to include the expenditure as part of the budget amendment she’ll present at a future meeting.
“Obviously, the land is worth a lot more than that amount of money,” Reynolds said.
Both she and the board expressed excitement they were close to the end of this process, with Supervisor Martin Chitty saying, “This has been languishing for decades.”
A deal was almost reached in 2008 when then-U.S. Rep. Tom Latham stuck an amendment in a federal-government spending bill mandating the Corps return the land to the county for free within 180 days. The bill was passed into law, but the Corps never gave up the land, saying it didn’t have enough money to conduct the necessary testing on it.
But nine years later, it looks as if the process is starting to come to an end. If possible, Reynolds said she’d like to send the check by the end of the week.
“(It) kept feeling like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, kept thinking we were getting close and Lucy would pull it away,” Sanders said. “Lucy was the Corps of Engineers in this case, so it’s exciting that we’re here.”