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Developers pay $13,295 per acre to protect farming
The endangered valley elderberry longhorn beetle. - photo by Photo Contributed

The loss of farmland to build employment centers, retail and housing as part of the Austin Road Business Park could cost developers as much as $13.8 million.

That cost could skyrocket if elderberries that are home to the endangered valley elderberry longhorn beetle are found on the 1,045 acres the project encompasses. Should they find elderberries as they develop the project in southwest Manteca that stretches into the Ripon Unified School District, they would have to pay an additional $1,800 for each elderberry stem over one-inch in diameter at ground level that they remove.

The fees for elderberry bush removal and the conversion of farmland to urbanized uses is part of the mandated San Joaquin County Multi-Species Habitat Conservation and Open Space Plan that’s been in place since 2001. The San Joaquin Council of Governments monitors the program.

It is designed to compensate for open space, farmland, vernal pools, and land in its natural state that is lost to development. The fees go to purchase and manage replacement land for open space, farming, and ecological systems such as vernal pools.

The fees are going up 4.4 percent for 2014.

That jumps the cost to:

• $13,295 per acre of farmland or land in its natural state that is being developed.

• $6,656 for each acre of open space lost.

• $39,000 per acre of vernal pool grasslands converted for growth.

• $80,972 per acre of wetted vernal pools.