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City moves ahead on sale of Vienna Woods to private interests

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
July 26th, 2018

The city has ignored a petition and a plea from the community to save the entire Vienna Woods and has instead moved ahead with the sale of part of that property.

Grand Forks city council voted in favour of accepting an offer for a section of the woods near the airport late last month, despite a June 14 petition delivered to the office of the Grand Forks city corporate officer.

Due to time constraints the corporate officer was not able to verify full names, residential addresses and signatures of each petitioner in the petition and if these items were correctly represented by each individual.

In all, the petition gathered 175 names — including 157 from Grand Forks — and was delivered by Joanie Koch-Kalanj.

“It took a century to create the habitat that exists in the Vienna Woods Forest,” wrote Koch-Kalanj in her letter to council. “Disturbing it would cause irreparable damage and have a ripple effect throughout the entire Grand Forks Valley.”

Koch-Kalanj noted that the group was in the process of rebuilding from the devastation created by the recent flooding. In addition to preserving the lands, remediation efforts to undo the damage created by flooding would create jobs, provide educational and career opportunities for the region’s youth, “and create mentoring opportunities with knowledgeable ‘elders’ in our community,” Koch-Kalanj wrote.

The Vienna Woods — located near the airport — is an 11-acre section of desert forest, with the city owning six of the acres, and the school district holding the deed to the remaining section.

But on June 25 the city acted on its intention to move the property to private interests, not releasing details on how much land was sold, for how much, or what the city intends to do with the proceeds of the land sale.

“Council received confirmation … that the land sale has gone through of the Vienna Woods property out by the airport,” said Coun. Julia Butler, speaking on behalf of the entire council. “At this time this is all of the information we are prepared to release.”

The group had re-iterated its request to have the Vienna Woods re-zoned as an urban park and a natural wildlife sanctuary, in face of the city desire to negotiate the sale of part of the Vienna Woods forested lands to a business interest.

In her letter to city council Koch-Kalanj stated there was a viable option, that the potential business operator be offered non-forested city-owned lands for sale instead of Vienna Woods.

The woods were considered the last of a unique dry land ecosystem and home to dozens of species of birds. In March Gene Koch — a community environmentalist — spoke to council about the need to save the woods for future generations.

Koch made a plea for conservation now in regards to natural areas like Vienna Woods, as opposed to later when the situation became dire.

“As you remove the forest … in essence, in time the birds will just die,” he said. “What I am distressed about is I don’t want to see us wait to see some of these animals on an endangered species list.

“Why can’t we just manage what we have today so they never come onto the endangered species list? There’s nothing quite like the beauty of wildlife right in the wild and it’s so close … so it’s really critical that it just be salvaged.”

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