BLM land purchase will cost Natrona and Carbon Counties thousands of dollars in lost tax revenue

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

A $21 million purchase of private land by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management earlier this month will cost Natrona and Carbon counties thousands of dollars a year in lost tax revenue.

Natrona County Commissioner Rob Hendry said the recently acquired 35,670 acres southwest of Casper brought Natrona $17,800 in tax revenue this year alone.

Hendry said tax revenue from this property goes to pre-established tax mills to support institutions such as local schools, hospitals and fire districts.

“They’re going to suffer because of this,” Hendry said.

On June 2, the BLM announced that it had purchased the Marton family ranch, located east of the Alcova Reservoir and bordered to the north by 8.8 miles of frontage on the North Platte River. Over 93% of the land is in Natrona County.

The purchase, which is BLM’s largest in state history, will also unlock access to 40,000 acres of existing landlocked BLM and state-owned land.

Transparency

Hendry said he did not disapprove of the sale at face value, but said he would have liked to see a more transparent sale process and an exchange take place so that an equal amount of public land would pass into private hands. . He said there are many unused 40-acre BLM parcels in the eastern part of the state that could be sold for private grazing.

The BLM did not publicly announce the sale until it was finalized, a point Governor Mark Gordon criticized in his formal June 16 appeal of the purchase to the US Department of the Interior. the agency that oversees the BLM. Members of the Wyoming congressional delegation also criticized the decision in a letter lambasting the BLM.

Gordon and Hendry said they do not dispute the Marton family’s decision to sell their land to the government.

“No comment”

Tyson Finnicum, public affairs specialist for the BLM High Plains District, said a nondisclosure agreement was in place before the sale which he could not comment on.

“I cannot comment on the nondisclosure agreement that was in place, nor provide any further comment on the project while the appeals process is ongoing,” he said.

The Marton family did not immediately respond to request for comment.

In recent years, nearly 70,000 acres of Marton property had been put up for sale for $28 million.

“No entry”

In the governor’s appeal, Travis Jordan, Wyoming’s senior assistant attorney general, said the BLM had not sought input from local authorities and the public, or analyzed the economic impacts of the sale, although Hendry had said he and his fellow Natrona County commissioners had been briefed. the sale about two weeks before it goes public.

“They kind of followed protocol,” Hendry said. “I didn’t like the way it was handled.”

Under the federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, the BLM must notify a state’s governor and congressional delegation before purchasing land with LWCF funds. None of these parties said they received any notification before the sale.

While counties will lose property tax revenue on land, the federal payment in lieu of taxes program is designed to cover some of the losses by paying counties some of the taxes they cannot collect on federal land. .

Vague promises

But Gordon, in his appeal, said the state could not count on vague promises from the BLM about PILT payments.

Hendry said the BLM may consider giving some of its new public lands to private individuals — generating property tax revenue — or increasing PILT payments to Natrona County, but no promises have been made.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said.

Even though counties receive these LTIP funds directly, they cannot directly use the money to fund entities such as schools and hospitals. Hendry said in contrast, about 76% of Marton’s annual tax revenue goes directly to local schools.

Gordon also criticized a “quick-take” environmental assessment conducted by the BLM for the sale, a study that typically takes years and involves public engagement. Information about the proposed sale was posted online in February.

“This action is not intended to limit athlete access or challenge the rights of private owners,” Gordon said in a press release on the appeal. “It’s about whether the federal government can increase its landholdings without public scrutiny, or must it adhere to the same transparent process that private landowners are subject to if they seek to purchase or exchange federal lands.”

Benefits for athletes

But the gains for outdoor enthusiasts are legitimate, Hendry said, with the purchase providing an incredible access point for antelope hunting and world-class fishing.

“It’s really good frontage on the North Platte River,” he said.

The river offers blue trout fishing, breathtaking views of the Snowy Range mountains, and abundant wildlife.

Finnicum said in a previous Cowboy State Daily interview that there are no plans to add or change any infrastructure on the property at this time, but the BLM hopes to engage with the public to discuss possible future changes such as such as modernizing roads and improving access to fishing.

BLM staff were studying the purchase as early as September 2021 and received $21 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund that year to purchase the ranch in its entirety.

The Fund was created by Congress in 1964 as a way to apply offshore mining royalties to conservation, but Hendry said when it was created it was not for the purchase of surface land.

“Most of the West supported it and was told it would not be used to buy property,” he said.

The nonprofit Conservation Fund said it had worked with the Marton family for five years to find a conservation solution for the land and originally purchased the land before transferring it to the BLM. This detail is not explained in any BLM document or press release regarding the sale. TCF did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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