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Grand Teton land talks go on; sale deadline passes

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 10, 2014 at 5:12 pm •  Published: January 10, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The Interior Department has missed a deadline to buy state land located within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park, but state and federal officials say they're still optimistic about reaching a deal in which the land instead would be swapped for federal land and mineral rights.

A land swap could be a much broader transaction than a simple purchase by the federal government. In addition to the Grand Teton land, a swap could involve state land outside Lander and Gillette, as well as various U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands and federal mineral rights.

State and federal officials have been discussing a land swap for several months now. Exactly what might be traded, however, remains undecided.

"We're considering all options at this point. We haven't pinned one down," Bridget Hill, director of the Office of State Lands and Investments, said Friday.

Two state lawmakers are sponsoring a bill to facilitate a land swap. The bill would need a favorable vote from two-thirds of the House or Senate to be introduced during the Legislature's budget session that begins Feb. 10.

Wyoming has owned a small portion of land within Grand Teton since statehood. Grand Teton became a national park without the federal government assuming ownership of the state parcels, which comprise more than 2 square miles of terrain mostly covered by sagebrush, wildflowers and aspen clusters.

State officials long have wanted to be rid of the land. The state brings in hardly any revenue from leasing the properties for grazing — about $1,600 a year — compared with the millions of dollars the parcels might be worth if ever sold on the open market. Virtually every part of the state lands in pricey Jackson Hole offer stunning views of the Teton Range.

In 2010, Gov. Dave Freudenthal and other state officials threatened to auction the land if the federal government didn't reach an agreement with Wyoming to acquire the properties.

By the end of that year, the Interior Department had agreed to buy the state parcels and minor state mineral rights in Grand Teton for $107 million. The purchase was to be completed over four annual transactions.

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