OSLI proposes Albany Co property acquisitionWritten by Saige Albert
After holding a public hearing on Jan. 18 in Laramie, the OSLI Director Ryan Lance says they are open to receiving comments on the acquisition of the Moriah Ranch.
“We were still interested in finding parcels to meet the trust land management objectives after declining to move forward with acquiring the Boston Ranch,” says Lance, adding that acquiring land to build the portfolio of OSLI is a directive that was issued by the Wyoming Legislature.
After a search of properties on the open market that met the objectives of the State Board of Land Commissioners (SBLC), the Moriah Ranch in Albany County was determined to be desirable for acquisition.
The Moriah Ranch was appraised by an OSLI appraiser and later reviewed by an external entity to ensure fair value. The property was valued at $861.19 per acre for a total of nearly $11.15 million.
The water and mineral rights will be transferred with the sale of the land, and Lance notes that the landowner currently holds 75 percent of the mineral rights on the property.
“The ranch has high classification value for wind, and the wind generation potential is very high,” says Lance, who also notes that the property is within close proximity to power lines that will be constructed for wind energy transmission.
Comments received by the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources included the potential of the ranch to offer research opportunities for a conical timber lodge on the Moriah Ranch.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department also commented that the property offers some benefits from a wildlife habitat and management standpoint, noting that the ranch provides habitat for mule deer, antelope and elk, particularly in managing the elk population in Hunt Area 7.
Lance says, “In our past experience, we would enroll these sorts of lands in Hunter Management Areas and walk-in access areas.”
In the detailed analysis proposal issued by OSLI, the potential benefits of the Moriah Ranch are explained further. The report can be found at lands.state.wy.us in the News and Notices section.
“This would be the largest acquisition of state trust land since statehood, and I believe in the history of our office,” comments Lance, adding that OSLI was interested in hearing public comments and received input at the Jan. 18 hearing.
“There was public concern on the way the appraisal was developed and water rights on the land,” says Lance. “They also wanted to know about the intended use going forward, which we related.”
Lance stated that the intent of OSLI is that the Moriah will likely be maintained as a working agriculture operation. There are several options to maintain ranch operations, including by bidding the property out as a grazing lease or doing an operational lease.
“In an operational lease, they buy all of the rights to use the ranch for agriculture operations,” explains Lance, who adds that potential lessees would bid on the property and the OSLI will choose the candidate that will best be able to manage the asset for trust beneficiaries.
“It is up to the Board of Land Commissioners to decide how to manage the property,” says Lance.
Albany County rancher Kelly Kennedy says he has concerns about the potential state purchase of the Moriah Ranch.
“I am concerned what it will do to our land values, because the state is paying a huge amount for it,” says Kennedy. “It will also raise the value of all the ranches around here, and we will never be able to buy ground that touches us again. Cattle producers can’t pay that much and can’t compete there.”
Kennedy is also concerned about the management and upkeep of the property and its improvements, including fences.
He says that the potential for more public access around his property is slightly concerning, but can be beneficial.
“Our ranch is already open to the public for hunting, and most of the public is very good,” says Kennedy, who owns land adjacent to the Moriah Ranch. “It’s also a good way to expose people to agriculture because there aren’t many people anymore from an ag background.”
“I’ve got mixed feelings about this,” adds Kennedy, “and I’d rather see the state of Wyoming put money back into the land than something more risky.”
James Goodrich, a cattle producer who leases land between the Moriah Ranch and Laramie Peak big game winter range also expressed mixed feelings.
“On one hand, if it is purchased by the state, leased for grazing and also opened up for hunting, I think that is a good thing – as long as it is regulated,” says Goodrich.
The deeded ground between the Moriah and the big game winter range areas will create a need for regulation and access management during hunting season, according to Goodrich, who adds, “I can foresee some trespassing and hunter traffic issues with those two pieces of property in close proximity.”
“My other concern is that it takes the land out of private ownership,” comments Goodrich.
With the public hearing complete, OSLI is accepting public comments for 60 days.
“The public is encouraged to send comments through our website or by letter,” adds Lance. “After the analysis is made available to the public, the rule by the Legislature specifies that we cannot take the potential acquisition to the SBLC for at least 60 days to allow public comments and for evaluation of comments.”
The next scheduled SBLC meeting is April 12, when Lance says they will likely convene to discuss the Moriah Ranch. He notes that the public is also invited to attend the SBLC meeting to express concerns or comment on the potential property acquisition.
OSLI increases portfolio
“At the time that the State Board of Land Commissioners (SBLC) bought the Duncan Ranch, the Legislature said that the SBLC could acquire up to 10,000 acres of land in the state above the baseline amount of 1999,” says Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI) Director Ryan Lance, adding that the Legislature expressed concern at the time that too much state land was being sold or traded.
“Since 1999, we have sold or traded a net of 13,610 acres,” adds Lance. “The SBLC has the ability to purchase or acquire 23,610 acres of land.”
The funds from sale of state lands are deposited in the Common School Permanent Land Trust Fund, which is used to purchase new parcels. The fund held nearly $15 million as of December 2011.
After a proposal is submitted, an initial review team and the OSLI director review all acquisition proposals. Approval at that stage is followed by a preliminary detailed analysis, which is presented in executive session. A resolution authorizing the option to purchase is then made, follow by negotiation and the execution of the option to purchase.
At that point, the detailed analysis is published, and public hearings are conducted. A 60-day comment period is allowed for the public to weigh in on potential acquisitions before the SBLC makes their final decision.
Lance emphasizes that the land acquired is under control of the SBLC, and properties must meet the trust’s land management objectives.
The objectives of the SBLC are to better meet the beneficiaries’ short- or long-term objectives; improve the manageability of the land asset; and meet a specific school or community need.
“We look to see if the land can generate revenue for school children, the ability to block up isolated tracts, the investment and appreciation potential of the land and the recreational value,” explains Lance. “We looked at all parcels that met those objectives, and ultimately the SBLC determined that they wanted to purchase the Moriah Ranch.”