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Watershed petition moves forward

JACKSONVILLE ' A petition drive to block the proposed sale of watershed land to a local motorcycle club has garnered signatures from more than half of the town's registered voters.

We were amazed by the response, said petitioner Carolyn Kingsnorth. But people in Jacksonville are really angry about the (proposed sale). And they are also angry this issue is taking so long to resolve.

The fate of the city's heavily forested 1,800-acre watershed has been under debate by two citizen advisory subcommittees for the past two years. One option calls for the city to maintain ownership of the land, turning it into a city forest and recreational park. Another proposes selling two-thirds of the property to the Motorcycle Riders Association. Funds from the estimated &

36;750,000 to &

36;1 million sale would be used to improve the remaining third of the watershed.

During the three-week petition drive, petitioners canvassed all Jacksonville neighborhoods, said Kingsnorth. Of the 885 residents canvassed, 848 elected to sign the petition, she said. Thirty-seven residents declined to sign either because they favor the sale of the watershed or they had no opinion.

MRA President David Lexow said he's not surprised at the number of signatures Kingsnorth's group collected. But he said petitioners are presenting misinformation.

— The feedback I've received shows the (petition) numbers are based on inaccurate information they're giving out, said Lexow. They're going door to door saying we're destroying the watershed. Our opposition is very fluent with misinformation. We're the ones taking care of the watershed.

The MRA currently owns 300 acres in the watershed and does its best to enforce safe trail riding within its membership and with other nonmember users, said Lexow. If the MRA is able to purchase the additional acres, it will attract more members and more funding to better address noise and environmental concerns.

The group has applied for and received more than &

36;1 million in grants in the past 10 years, said Lexow. More acreage would mean more funds from gas taxes and off-highway vehicle sticker sales.

As for enforcement, Lexow said the area is already well known as an open riding area. That would improve under MRA ownership with new trails and more policing by MRA members.

We police our own, said Lexow. It takes an OHV recreator to catch an OHV recreator.

Kingsnorth said the people she spoke to were informed about the watershed. Most of them had been studying the issue as long as the council ' and they do not want increased OHV usage in the watershed, she said.

We wanted to demonstrate how widespread opposition is, said Kingsnorth, who lives two miles north of Jacksonville near an access road to the watershed. We had OHV riders signing because they didn't want increased OHV usage in their back yard. We still have people wanting to sign.

The petition was circulated by a group called the Jacksonville Citizens League. Petitioners include Kingsnorth, Larry Smith, Constance Jesser and Stanley Lyon. Copies of the petition and signatures were sent to Jacksonville Mayor Jim Lewis, Bureau of Land Management lead planner Kristi Mastrofini and Jackson County Roads, Parks and Planning Director Paul Korbulic.

Kingsnorth said petitioners believe the city has been unresponsive to letters from local organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Jacksonville Boosters Club, which have voiced opposition to the sale. The council apparently views the civic organizations as special interest groups, said Kingsnorth.

The MRA is a special interest group, she said.

The subcommittees will present options for the watershed during a City Council study session at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Old City Hall. No public comment will be taken. The matter has not yet been placed on the council's formal agenda.