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FPUD rejects extension of Western Rivers Conservancy escrow


Last updated 7/3/2017 at Noon

Escrow will not close on the sale of 1,384 acres of land along the Santa Margarita River owned by the Fallbrook Public Utility District (FPUD).

A 3-2 FPUD board vote June 26 rejected a motion to extend the escrow agreement with Western Rivers Conservancy for 90 days. Don McDougal and Jennifer DeMeo voted in favor of the extension while Milt Davies, Al Gebhart, and Charley Wolk voted against the extension.

"The total 18-month period will end this Friday, June 30," said FPUD general manager Brian Brady.

In September 2015 FPUD's board approved a sale agreement of the property to Western Rivers Conservancy for $9,975,000. The purchase and sale agreement stipulated an escrow closing date of December 31, 2016, unless Western Rivers Conservancy chose to increase the deposit and extend escrow to June 30, 2017.

In the late 1940s the FPUD board decided to pursue building a dam on the Santa Margarita River, and the district purchased the 1,384-acre property with plans to use the land for the dam. Issues involving Camp Pendleton water rights needed to be resolved at higher government levels, and by the time that occurred environmental and funding issues prevented the dam from being built.

The plans for the dam have been replaced with the Santa Margarita Conjunctive Use Project which would enhance groundwater recharge and recovery capacity within the lower Santa Margarita River basin and develop a program which would increase available water supplies for Camp Pendleton and FPUD.

The expectation was for the land to be placed into a permanent conservation easement, and the purchase and sale agreement stipulated that a recreational trails easement as well as a long-term stewardship agreement would be finalized before the close of escrow. The process would have involved The Wildlands Conservancy undertaking the role as the long-term steward of the entire land with an equestrian easement being granted to the Fallbrook Trails Council. Concurrence in writing by FPUD, Western Rivers Conservancy, The Wildlands Conservancy, and the Fallbrook Trails Council would have been necessary for the agreement to be finalized.

The revenue from the sale would have been earmarked to construct the Conjunctive Use Project facilities. FPUD's board will determine the next step with regard to a potential transfer of ownership of the property.

FPUD is also expected to develop a fire management plan for the property, and the June 26 board meeting also included a 5-0 vote to obtain information on the cost of such a plan.

"The board voted to investigate the cost of a fire management plan," Brady said. "They requested that staff do some more research and also contact North County Fire for possible collaboration."

On April 27, the FPUD board voted to approve further review of developing a fire management plan with input from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the North County Fire Protection District. A preliminary cost estimate of $50,000 has a scope of work including acquisition of digital property information, field assessments and hazard analysis, fire behavior modeling, preparation of a report, and project meetings.


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