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County seeks interest in Rogers Mesa site

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County government is issuing a call for "letters of intent" from businesses or other organizations that have a proposal for use of the shuttered CSU agricultural research station on Rogers Mesa.

Completion of a four-month-long feasibility study on possible community uses for the 70-acre former ag research facility has led to the call for interested users.

At a courthouse meeting last week, the feasibility study was released and a roundtable discussion with community leaders was led by consultant Laurian Unnevehr, Ph.D. of the University of Illinois. Her study was funded by Delta County, Region 10 and CSU.

The purpose for the study was to "determine the market feasibility and organizational sustainability of a potential agricultural-based education program and/or farm incubator at the Rogers Mesa site."

The study resulted in two recommendations: 1) Delta County should request clarification in writing from CSU regarding the terms of any potential use agreements for the Rogers Mesa site, and; 2) Delta County should issue a call for letters of intent to determine which organization(s) will take the lead for any new programs at Rogers Mesa."

During last week's feasibility study rollout, a local representative of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union said the organization is interested in submitting a letter of intent and has a use in mind for the site. The RMFU is involved with both ag co-ops and ag education. Other local organizations noted that may have a possible use for the site under the study guidelines include Valley Food Partnership, Delta County Soil Conservation District, School District 50, Economic Development, and/or any viable commercial operator who could partner with other organizations.

Stated goals for future use of the research station are stated in very general terms which are well-suited to the desired non-profit and/or educational use of the facility:

• Create a sustainable organization that complements the county's ag industry and heritage;

• Promote economic development and enhance educational opportunities;

• Conduct research that will aid local producers in refining and developing best management practices;

• Involvement, if possible, with "existing partnerships."

According to the feasibility study, the CSU Rogers Mesa ag research station was established in 1961. It engaged research in tree crops, grapes, vegetables and alternative crops. Weather and water monitoring activities were also conducted there.

The station was closed in June 2011 and was put on the market for sale.

CSU was dissuaded from selling the property outright by community interests who want to see it continue as a local resource for some type of "cooperative" ag production and education.

In April, a feasibility study was funded and contracted. Last week's study rollout marked the completion of Phase II in the process of hopefully reviving the station. Phase III, the final phase, is intended to be a detailed business analysis to gauge the economic viability of any proposals receive .

Since the station was removed from the real estate market, CSU has received two inquiries for commercial sale. CSU wants to be able to make a decision on the future use of the property hopefully by June of next year.

CSU has placed a number of conditions on continued use of the facility if it is to remain under the institution's ownership. CSU will require market rent for the site, and any new user must maintain the site. Any use agreement beyond five years must go to the CSU board of governors for approval.

The feasibility study finds that whether the station continues forward as an ag incubator or an ag education program, it will need the support and participation of commercial, institutional, and/or grant-funding organizations.

Unnevehr said there are many farm incubator models around the country, most of them less than 10 years old. They are not self-sustaining and need a producing or institutional partner or grant funding to stay in operation.

A big farm incubator project at Hesperus is one possible exception with a $638,000 annual budget, multiple thousands of acres available for its various cultural and ag activities, and interlinked supporting partnerships with a range of organizations, including college-level ones.

The feasibility study notes there are several regional higher ed institutions that offer ag or ag-related courses, including CSU. District high schools have strong FFA programs.

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