Gov. Mead will consider trade for Teton land

AP News
Posted: Aug 12, 2013 10:29 PM

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Gov. Matt Mead said Monday he hasn't seen a proposal of what lands the federal government will offer to swap for state holdings in Grand Teton National Park but doesn't want to wait years to resolve the issue.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference in Sweetwater County, Mead said he talked last week with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell when she was in Wyoming to tour the state-owned areas within Grand Teton.

The federal government had agreed a few years ago to a four-phase, $107 million purchase of the nearly 1,300 acres of state-owned lands within the park. The federal government already has closed on the first phases, the purchase of minor state mineral rights in early 2012, followed late last year by the purchase of 86 acres of state land for $16 million.

But federal officials now say they don't have the money to consummate the main transaction: the purchase of two state-owned sections for more than $40 million each.

"It's clear to me that there is not going to be a cash deal," Mead said. "The federal government just doesn't have the money."

Mead said Jewell assured him that the federal government is committed to acquiring the state parcels but would have to look at trading federal land elsewhere. "Conceptually, I'm open to that," he said. "But the devil's in the details."

Wyoming has owned the land since statehood and state officials long have complained about getting only a pittance every year from ranchers who pay to run cattle in the park. The issue heated up in 2010 when former Gov. Dave Freudenthal threatened to sell the land to the highest bidder, which could lead to unsightly and disruptive development there.

Mead said Monday he has concerns with the prospect of delays in the federal government's acquisition, but said he's not to the point where he would say the state's going to put the parcels on the auction block for the highest bidder.

"I'm not interested in a deal 10 years from now, because I'm not going to be in office, the secretary's not going to be in office," Mead said. "And so there's an immediacy to it that it is still going to be required, even if it's going to come by way of exchange."

Jewell issued a statement last week saying she had directed her staff to pursue all options to protect the park. "Given the fiscal climate and constrained federal resources, creativity and flexibility will be required," she said, "but I am absolutely committed to see this cross the finish line."