Pima County's $1.175 million purchase of the 50-acre Cortaro/Hartman property along the Hardy Wash is expected to be concluded by the middle of July, if all goes according to plan.
The property is part of a deal the county is making with Diamond Ventures to acquire three properties — Cortaro / Hartman, the 160-acre Bloom property in the Tucson Mountains, and 2,700 acres of the Empirita Ranch in the Whetstone Mountains — for $12.8 million.
Most of the money will come from the remaining funds available from the county's 2004 open space bond, said Nicole Fyffe, executive assistant to county administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
"The Cortaro/Hartman property falls into our habitat protection priority category," she noted, "where we try to protect prime land for its ecological values."
Fyffe said the property along Hardy Wash is habitat for four vulnerable species — the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, the western burrowing owl, the Tucson shovelnose snake and the Tumamoc globe berry.
The 50 acres are composed of two L-shaped parcels located along Hardy Wash, east of Interstate 10, and north of the intersection of Hartman Lane and Cortaro Farms Road.
"The acreage is west of Arthur Pack Park, which contains a good chunk of Hardy Wash, which we want to preserve," Fyffe said. "West of the park is a subdivision where our flood control district owns a portion of the wash, thus conserving it. This property is north and west of that and is relatively undisturbed ironwood habitat with the Hardy Wash riparian area flowing through it."
The purchase price of $1.175 million is $23,500 an acre, Fyffe said. "We've struggled to meet the expectations of owners concerning values in the area," she noted, "and this one came in just right."
Once the county takes possession of the property, one of the first steps in its preservation will be to fence it, said Kerry Baldwin, natural resources division manager for the county's Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation department.
"We want to secure the property and usually put up four-strand wire fence, smooth on the top and bottom strands to be wildlife-friendly, and barbed on the two center strands," Baldwin said. "There will be one or more entry gates, depending on the access needed to the property."
Baldwin noted another priority is to continue cleanup efforts where needed.
"The owner has done a very good job of cleaning up items left from previous owners," Baldwin said, "like burned-out buildings, tires and other trash."
The county also will erect signage noting the property is part of a conservation area where dumping, shooting and motorized vehicles are not allowed.
After establishing a secure perimeter and cleaning up the area, Baldwin said the county would monitor the property by working with the sheriff's department to be sure the fences stay up, and that there is no illegal activity on the property.
"My sense of this property is that it may be a bit of a challenge," he noted. "A lot of roads have criss-crossed the western portion of property for some time, and some old historic buildings burned down out there, so where there's trash, it tends to attract more trash. We have to change behavior patterns."
Baldwin pointed out there are no established county roads on the property.
"I think we have the old use of dirt roads in the area as shortcuts," he said. "We'll do a records search to make sure there's no easement out there and see if we can shut down two or three of those dirt roads."
Baldwin doesn't anticipate any significant efforts at creating a trail system or parking areas on the property, "although people will be able to come in and walk around," he said. "We don't restrict that kind of activity — only the kind that has a major impact on the habitat."
Baldwin added there are a couple of old wells on the property, one of which he expects will be capped.
"The other well may be useable and we're considering creating an enhancement project for wildlife because water is a critical enhancement in the desert," he said. "We might be able to put a solar pump system on that well and let it trickle out to provide water for the wildlife in the area."