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PD Editorial: A chance to preserve a piece of the coast at the Gualala River

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If time is money, the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy just received a valuable gift: Two years.

That’s how long a charitable foundation has agreed to hold title to the 112-acre Mill Bend property near the mouth of the Gualala River in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The conservancy will use those two years to raise $2.4 million for the purchase and management of the land, ensuring its preservation in perpetuity.

The arrangement, announced Wednesday by the conservancy, creates an opportunity for great public and environmental benefit. Ownership of the Mill Bend property by the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy will improve public access to the Gualala River, preserve a scenic stretch along coastal Highway 1, result in a de facto expansion of Sonoma County’s popular Gualala Point Park and create connections to the California Coastal Trail.

The Mill Bend property is a vital remnant of a 30,000-acre tract sold in 2015 to Gualala Redwood Timber. One of the sellers, the Ollie Edmunds family, retained the 112-acre Mill Bend tract in hopes of finding a buyer that would either develop or preserve it. The conservancy has been working to buy the property since it went on the market in 2017.

Land trusts such as the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy can’t always act as quickly as sellers would like. Nonprofit organizations need time to raise money and obtain grants — and in the meantime, other buyers might step forward with cash in hand.

Enter the Allemall Foundation, a low-profile charity headquartered in Maryland. A daughter of the charity’s founders lives in The Sea Ranch. The foundation has agreed to buy the Mill Bend property for $1.8 million and hold onto it for two years, giving the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy time to put together a purchase and management plan.

The conservancy plans to raise the $1.8 million partly from private donors and partly from grants by state and federal wildlife and land management agencies. Those agencies — and the public they serve — need to be certain that the conservancy has the wherewithal to manage the Mill Bend tract, so the conservancy must also raise $600,000 to endow a perpetual stewardship fund. That’s $2.4 million in all.

At the same time, the two-year deadline lends urgency to the fundraising task. Part of the conservancy’s challenge will be to enhance appreciation of the Mill Bend property’s value.

Progress in that direction has already begun with the formation of a Mill Bend Technical Advisory Committee made up of local residents and specialists. The committee will develop a plan for the preservation and restoration of the land, while also providing a vision of its importance to the local economy and environment.

Often when people think of protecting precious lands, they think of public ownership. There’s something to be said for private groups and donors putting their money where their conservation rhetoric is. In addition, with the right commitments, this sort of conservation guarantees that there will never be exploitation. There’s no chance, for example, that a new White House administration might allow logging or oil drilling on open-space land.

Mill Bend is the gateway to the Gualala River and is indispensable to visitors and wildlife alike. The Redwood Coast Land Conservancy is right to make its preservation a top priority. Now it has the time it needs to achieve that goal.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com.

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