Sale of land to motorcycle group faces bumpy ride

JACKSONVILLE — Negotiations between city officials and a motorcycle riders group over the proposed sale of property in the town watershed are moving into their second year as city residents continue to study the issue.

A town hall meeting was held in November, and another meeting will be scheduled during February, Mayor Bruce Garrett said, and a group informally called Watershed Stakeholders has formed. Strong opinions about the proposal have been published in the town's monthly newspaper.

"Some of the first financial advice you get is 'don't sell your assets.' " former city councilwoman Joyce Coleman, wrote in a long letter in December's Jacksonville Review. "Whether this is an asset or a liability is the crux of going after this. We should sit down and analyze this very carefully."

State officials and the city's insurance company have called for repairing the dam that was formerly used to store water in the city's 1,800-acre watershed. Garrett said selling a parcel of land in the upper part of the watershed to the Motorcycle Riders Association could fund removing or repairing the dam.

MRA owns land on both sides of the parcel being considered for sale.

City officials and MRA members also are looking at swapping land in the upper watershed for a 40-acre parcel the MRA developed for parking, which is adjacent to 880 acres in the lower watershed that the city has designated as Forest Park.

Steven Croucher, the motorcycle riders president, said his group has no specific goals in the negotiations.

"We have been fairly flexible with ideas that have been put forth," Croucher said.

"Overall, as a motorcycle riders association, we are always looking for ground that we can ride," he said. Residents rejected the notion of selling watershed land in the 1990s. In 2004, the Council voted to retain the watershed, but maintenance and administration of the watershed require city staff time.

Councilman John Dodero has met with members of stakeholders, which include Phil Gahr, Charlie Wilson, former councilman Dick Ames and Tony Hess. Ames and Hess have spearheaded efforts to establish and improve Forest Park.

Dodero said the four "know more about the watershed than pretty much anybody. They are just trying to get some kind of plan that can generate a broad base of support, including the MRA, then come to the city with a fully formed plan."

Garrett said the city has placed past studies and information about the watershed on its Web site in response to requests for information at the November meeting.

"It's a fine balance to keep as much land as possible and work out a deal that the MRA would be happy with, as well as meeting obligations with the state and insurance company on the dam," Garrett said.

Coleman, the former councilwoman, said using the watershed's woodlands in potential cap-and-trade pollution-control programs and establishing conservation easements in the area also should be considered before any decisions are made.

"The No. 1 asset of the property is to keep Jacksonville from being a center for motorcycle activities," said Coleman. "We need to be frank about that. It's not a good possibility for any city."

Motorcyclists used land in the watershed for years before the city curtailed that use, Croucher noted, but easements do allow motorcycles to go through the area to reach other terrain.

"We're committed to make sure that we end up with a good agreement with the city and the riders," Croucher said. "If it takes a little longer that's what it will do."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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