What's the value of land in the Rocky Mountains? Better than $75,000 an acre if that land happens to lie beneath the Tetons in Grand Teton National Park.
Top Interior Department officials have agreed, in principle, to pay the state of Wyoming approximately $107 million for 1,366 acres of state land that falls within the park's boundaries.
The state has owned the land since 1890, when, as part of gaining statehood, it received lands from the federal government to be held in trust to provide revenue for public schools. This past summer Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal said the state would sell the lands to the highest bidder if the federal government couldn't work out a deal for the acreage.
Last week Interior and the Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners agreed to that $107 million sale price, although now it will be up to Congress to formalize the deal and find a way to pay for it.
“By entering into this agreement, Wyoming is ensuring the conservation of these lands as part of Grand Teton National Park while providing revenue to support state school systems,” said Tom Strickland, Interior's assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. “This is an agreement in which everyone -- the park, the state, and the citizens of Wyoming -- comes out ahead.”
Gov. Freudenthal also expressed appreciation to see the negotiations settled.
"This is the first time we have had a route forward. It is not perfect and it is obviously like everything in the government, it is subject to the availability of funds," the governor said last week. "But, to have an agreement in principal, an agreement on the price, an agreement on the time schedule, and an agreement on the manner and means by which it would be transacted, I think, is a good step.
"I hope the Legislature will authorize the Land Board to fully execute it during the next session and proceed to do it. I think (Interior Secretary Ken) Salazar and Strickland deserve credit for not linking issues because as you know there are other issues about which we have, shall we say, some gulf between us in terms of how we could proceed and I credit them with saying, ‘Look, we are not going to tie these issues together, we’re going to work together wherever we can,’ and I am pleased by that.”
The state-owned land within the park has not generated much income for the schools, and Congress passed legislation in 2003 to allow the department to enter into a land conveyance agreement with the state.