Fund to help trusts acquire property
By DON BEHM
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Last Updated: Jan. 25, 2002
A $3.75 million Great Lakes Revolving Loan Fund to be
announced today will give land trusts and municipalities
a more equal footing with developers when competing for
the acquisition of high quality natural areas along coastal
areas or river basins in the lakes' watershed, a national
conservation group said.
The fund could help protect $15 million worth of pristine
land in the next five years as the money circulates between
projects in the region, said Margaret Kohring, Midwest
director of The Conservation Fund.
Land trusts and local governments lack the large cash
reserves that would allow them to respond quickly to a
land sale, Kohring said in explaining the need for the
program. While they wait for state, federal or foundation
grants to be awarded, opportunities can slip away to another
bidder with the necessary capital.
"We've had some handshake deals fall through due
to a lack of funds or someone receiving a better offer,"
said Steve Seyfert, executive director of the Ozaukee
Washington Land Trust in West Bend.
"As land values increase, it is becoming harder
and harder to come up with the money needed to buy natural
areas in the time frame of a few months that most landowners
want," Seyfert said.
For that reason, land trusts limit the number of projects
they undertake so that they do not have to back out of
a deal after signing an offer to purchase, he said. Such
a strategy reduces the amount of land that can be protected
from development, however.
Christine Thisted, executive director of the Ice Age
Park and Trail Foundation in Milwaukee, said her statewide
land trust takes a cautious approach when taking on new
"We haven't pursued acquisitions unless we had the
money lined up," Thisted said. "A fund like
this would open up additional opportunities."
Most land trusts request state Stewardship grants to
pay up to half the costs of acquisitions, though the approval
process can take several months, or longer, according
to Seyfert. Each step of the way, landowners must be reassured
the deal will be made.
"Now, with this fund, we can close a purchase while
continuing to work at fund raising," Seyfert said.
Purchase of Milwaukee River shoreline is one of the land
trust's top priorities, and he expects to put the revolving
loan fund to use.
Ellen Gennrich, president of the Waukesha Land Conservancy
in Brookfield, said land trusts never know when someone
will call with an offer to sell land.
"And then we scramble for funds," Gennrich
said. "The potential is always there to lose a property
if we can't get the funding together soon enough."
The Waukesha Land Conservancy is aware of at least five
significant natural areas in the Lake Michigan watershed
in that county. "We certainly are interested in protecting
them in the future," Gennrich said. "So, this
revolving loan fund is good news."
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation created the revolving
loan fund with the largest environmental grant ever awarded
- $3.97 million - by the Flint, Mich., foundation.
The fund will provide loans between $25,000 and $1.25
million that must be repaid within 12 to 18 months, Kohring
said. Interest rates will be 1% below the prime rate,
and loans will be administered by The Conservation Fund's
Midwest office in Sawyer, Mich.
The Mott foundation expects to add another $3.75 million
to the fund over several years, swelling the available
conservation bankroll to $7.5 million, Kohring said. The
foundation was established in 1926 by industrialist Charles
Stewart Mott, a General Motors pioneer and former mayor
Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Jan. 25,