Wyoming Gov. Mead open to Grand Teton land swap

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead is open to the idea of a land trade that would transfer state-owned property into Grand Teton National Park, but he won’t wait indefinitely to reach a deal, he said Monday.

Mead’s comments came in a press conference during which he addressed several topics, including a visit Thursday by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to Grand Teton National Park. She expressed support for a deal that would move two square miles of land owned by Wyoming into Grand Teton.

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

That means a land trade is the most likely way Wyoming can realize full value for transferring the two 640-acres parcels to federal ownership.

“Conceptually, I’m open to that, but the devil is in the details,” Mead said.

For decades, Wyoming officials have wanted the federal government to pay for a handful of state parcels surrounded by the park. Wyoming’s constitution requires that the lands, held in trust for public schools, be managed to realize their maximum potential revenue. In recent years, that has meant state revenues of less than $2,000 per year in cattle grazing fees for two 640-acre parcels.

Under a deal negotiated under previous governor Dave Freudenthal’s administration, Interior is scheduled to pay $45 million by Jan. 5 for a square-mile parcel near Antelope Flats, and roughly that same amount sometime later for a square-mile parcel near Gros Ventre Road.

Federal budget constraints have made that virtually impossible, and negotiating a land swap by then appears equally unlikely.

Mead said he was not pleased that the January deadline for the Antelope Flats parcel won’t be met, “but not to the point that I would say we’re going to put it on the auction block.”

He said he won’t agree to any deal that doesn’t realize full value for the land, and he wants to sit down with Jewell and review any proposal she might have.

Any deal would have to happen while he is still in office, Mead said. Jewell said during her visit last week that she also expected to finalize a deal during her term.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or ruffin@yellowstonegate.com.

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