Easements Control Costs of Acquiring Open Space

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Byline: Deborah Johnson Daily Herald Staff Writer

DuPage County residents would not really own all the acres they'd "buy" under a $75 million open space proposal on the ballot this fall.

Instead, the forest preserve would pay current property owners not to develop the land.

"The land stays with the owner, but we control the use," said Commissioner Bill Maio, chairman of the forest preserve's land acquisition committee.

Forest preserve officials have targeted 2,229 acres to keep as natural or recreational areas.

Of those, they plan to buy only 890 acres. The rest of the land - mostly flood-prone areas along rivers and privately held golf courses - would be acquired through conservation easements.

Maio said acquiring easements instead of buying property outright would allow forest officials to conserve much more land.

He said $75 million isn't enough to buy all the land the forest preserve wants.

"If we bought everything outright, it would cost three to four times more," he said.

Buying easements, though, worries Commissioner Edward Merkel of Elmhurst.

Take the flood-prone property along Salt Creek, for instance.

Merkel said if land is flood prone, owners couldn't develop it anyway.

"I can't understand that," he said, "Why do we want to give them all that money?"

But Commissioner Roger Kotecki said buying the easements will ensure people won't build in wetlands and flood plains. …