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Reappraisal in works for pricey Grand Teton tracts

By: MEAD GRUVER
July 10, 2014 Updated: July 10, 2014 at 6:31 pm
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — State and federal officials are negotiating terms and conditions for an upcoming reappraisal of valuable state land located within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park that may be swapped for federal land elsewhere in Wyoming.

The two state parcels, measuring about a square mile each, both command outstanding views of the Tetons. Together, they would be valued at around $100 million if the results of the last appraisal, in 2010, hold.

In exchange, Wyoming officials seek a variety of U.S. Bureau of Land Management land, with priority given to federal tracts with mineral rights and oil and gas development potential.

"We'll appraise the Teton parcels first so everybody already knows what those are. And then we'll look for lands of equal value," Bridget Hill, director of the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments, said Wednesday.

Wyoming officials also are interested in obtaining federal lands located next to existing state parcels, she said, and lands with excellent value for livestock grazing.

They haven't yet picked out any specific federal tracts, she said.

Wyoming has owned the land in Grand Teton since statehood in 1890. The state land never has been incorporated into the park, which was established in its current boundaries in 1950.

Such inholdings once were common in Grand Teton. Few remain after decades of buyouts by the National Park Service.

State officials lease out the state inholdings for cattle grazing but grumble that they get peanuts in grazing fees — about $1,600 a year — compared to the land's value.

In 2010, Gov. Dave Freudenthal threatened to sell the land on the open market. Later that year, the Interior Department agreed to buy Wyoming's remaining park inholdings for $107 million.

The department bought some minor state mineral rights and 86 acres of inholdings from Wyoming for $16 million in 2012. After that, the deal called for the federal government to buy the remaining two, square-mile parcels for $45 million and $46 million in 2014 and 2015.

Last year, state and federal officials began discussing a possible land swap after it became apparent Interior wasn't going to buy the remaining lands.

Last winter, after the deadline for the 2014 transaction came and went with no sale, the Wyoming Legislature passed a bill allowing a land swap. The bill signed by Gov. Matt Mead calls for the land swap to be completed by 2016.

"I'm fairly optimistic that we can get this thing done. But at the end of the day, we all recognize we put a pretty short timeline on it that's going to be hard to meet," Hill said.

The BLM is working with Wyoming "to ensure a seamless process and to address all of the issues to our mutual satisfaction," BLM spokeswoman Cindy Wertz said in a statement Thursday.

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