It’s been 13 years to evict an Ogden wildlife rescue and city officials are questioning the timing

In March, DaLyn Marthaler, executive director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, received a letter from Ogden City that surprised her.

The letter said the wildlife rescue lease, also known as WRCNU, would be terminated after 13 years and the group, which had been operating for more than a decade, would be vacated.

“We got a message out of the blue – we had no idea it was coming – to clear the site within 180 days,” Marthaler, executive director of the WRCNU, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “So we have until September 6th to get out.”

Since receiving that letter, Marthaler has been on the hunt for a new space to house the facility’s many wildlife patients – from bald eagles to river otters. She said since WRCNU’s inception in 2009, the center has taken in thousands of animals each year.

However, the reason for the eviction varies depending on who you ask.

Marthaler said she expects the center to be demolished to expand nearby Ogden Dinosaur Park — possibly for a new parking lot. City leaders say that’s not necessarily the case. Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said during a city council meeting last week that the matter was a treaty issue with the WRCNU.

In a statement on Tuesday, a spokesman for the city of Ogden confirmed the city’s plan to expand the nearby dinosaur park, saying in the statement: “It has always been the intention to use the old Ogden City Animal Services building (which houses the WRCNU is) demolish Make more space for expansion of dinosaur park.

“We are equally interested in the continued success of the refugee center and will work with them as best we can during this transition period,” the statement said.

Anyhow, in the two months since WRCNU sent out its notice, Ogden City Council members are in the thick of it and say they still haven’t seen the construction plans for the dinosaur park should the wildlife center be vacated and don’t get it Timing of the city government does not.

“I don’t know what the urgency is,” Angela Choberka, leader of the Ogden Council, told The Tribune last Friday. “I was given no specific information.”

A “Temporary Agreement”

The WRCNU was first formed in 2009 after the Ogden Nature Center decided to end its wildlife rehabilitation program, Marthaler said. The rescue moved into the building formerly occupied by Ogden City Animal Services, which had recently been abandoned and incorporated into Weber County Animal Services.

Originally, their agreement with the city was only for 180 days, but Marthaler recalled that the city government had said at the time that the WRCNU just needed to prove its worth before it could close the deal long-term.

“It would just become a fact that we lived in this building and that would be our home forever after proving we could handle it for these few years,” Marthaler said.

In its statement, Ogden City said the deal with the WRCNU in 2010 was temporary, saying the deal was “intended to give them a place to work while they look for a permanent location.”

“When the agreement was entered into, due to the nature of the temporary agreement, there was never an expectation that it would remain in effect for 13 years,” the statement said.

No other home for injured animals

WRCNU cares for injured wild animals that would otherwise likely go untreated and either die or be left alone with their injuries.

The Ogden Wildlife Rescue is the only one of its kind in northern Utah. The closest facility is in Utah County. Marthaler said there are two people in Salt Lake who are trying to start their own rescue, but to get a permit you have to work at a licensed facility for at least two years.

“If we don’t exist or someone doesn’t exist, you can get an education, no more permits will be issued,” Marthaler said.

Since the eviction notice was issued, the WRCNU has spoken publicly about the possible eviction of the property from the city land. The eviction has resulted in Animal Rescue being temporarily closed starting May 15 and no longer accepting new animal patients.

Marthaler said WRCNU is taking care of between 200 and 300 animals, mostly birds – they released a golden eagle back into the wild last week – and smaller mammals such as beavers, badgers and porcupines.

Earlier this month, both the city and the WRCNU signed a forbearance agreement. The agreement, shared with The Tribune, said the city will extend its eviction deadline if the WRCNU can secure a lease on a new facility, giving the rescue more time to move out.

But even if the WRCNU finds a new home, it won’t make up for the improvements and renovations it’s already made to the current facility. Marthaler said in the years since WRCNU first moved in, it has installed a new H-VAC system, new carpeting, and other projects.

“We felt like we had done the due diligence and started investing in the building,” she said.

“I don’t see how this is supposed to serve anyone”

During an Ogden City Council meeting last week, scores of community members showed their support for the WRCNU and called on the council to prevent the animal rescue from being phased out. Based on the comments, council members began asking other city officials about the situation.

Caldwell, the mayor of Ogden, said the city and WRCNU are still negotiating what will happen.

“We were open to an extension and we remain open to an extension of the process,” Caldwell said during the council meeting. “So nothing is set in stone yet. We’re still working on the process and trying to find an arrangement that works for them and also for the city.”

Choberka said during Tuesday’s meeting that she was not in favor of perpetuating a free lease with the city, but questioned the timing, adding that voters keep asking to see plans for the dinosaur park now . Caldwell replied that council members would receive a copy of the plans within the week.

In a text message Tuesday, Choberka said she still hasn’t received the city’s plans, saying, “As far as I know, it’ll be a couple of weeks.”

Councilor Ben Nadolski expressed his frustration with the situation during last week’s meeting. He said the longer it took for the city and WRCNU to settle the eviction or expansion of the dinosaur park, the more frustrated and suspicious the public became.

“I don’t see how that’s going to benefit anyone in this situation,” Nadolski said. “I don’t know, I just don’t see how this is supposed to serve the dinosaur park.”

Go forward

Marthaler said in an email on Tuesday that she disputes Caldwell’s claim that contractual issues led to the eviction notice being issued.

“There were no problems,” she said on Tuesday. “I would challenge him to raise any issues and let us know.”

Choberka said she understands the need to give the WRCNU a deadline, but doesn’t understand the rush given the licenses required to conduct a wildlife rescue. As for the expansion of the dinosaur park, she added, as far as she knows, there’s no rush.

“Why can’t we just give them a little more lead time to transition? Because they’ve been there for 12 years,” Choberka said on Friday. “I think that’s where people started bringing up this whole issue with the dino park wanting to expand etc… So honestly, I don’t know.”

In the meantime, the WRCNU will continue to operate on the assumption that it could be kicked out by September.

Justin Scaccy

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