Sat, Oct. 19

Birds serve county with $100,000 bill

Supervisor Chip Davis calls it governmental extortion, but Yavapai County is being asked to give $100,000 to The Nature Conservancy before moving forward on the Mingus Avenue Extension.

It all revolves around a small, endangered bird.

Since 1997, the number of Southwestern Willow Flycatchers on the Verde River has dropped from 12 mating pairs to five, according to Phil Bourdon of the county's Public Works Department. The Nature Conservancy of Phoenix is expected to use the money to purchase an estimated nine acres for habitat.

The bird, about the size of a sparrow, was listed as endangered in 1995.

The species protection is only the most recent environment-related tab the county has been asked to pay as it extends Mingus from Main Street to the intersection of Cornville Road and Arizona 89A. The area is in the middle of Cottonwood's proposed Dead Horse Ranch annexation.

The recovery plan for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, one of five subspecies of Willow Flycatchers, is centered on the Verde River, Bourdon said. A special management unit is considered crucial in that effort.

Construction of the highway does not directly interfere with the river

In the event that the population recovers and is taken off of the Federal Endangered Species list, County Administrator Jim Holst suggested including a "reversionary clause" in the payment agreement.

Davis objected to the vague language of the agreement, which states The Nature Conservancy will acquire habitat "preferably" in the Verde Valley. That, he said, could leave the door open to using the money for anything anywhere.

"I'd like to see this tightened up so Yavapai County is protected," Davis said.

Public Works Director Richard Straub indicated that this type of expenditure, similar to other encounters with the endangered cliff rose and the threatened spikedace minnow, were expected and included in the proposed budget for the project. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed a biological survey of the area for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit.

Yavapai County is in the process of purchasing more than 300 acres as cliff rose habitat. Construction of the Mingus Avenue Extension is expected to begin in September.

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