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September 21, 2020

County fully funds federal land transfer work for river parcels

Jackson Hole News & Guide
By Billy Arnold Jackson Hole Daily
September 21, 2020

The county has taken another step toward transferring land along the Snake River from federal to county ownership.

The Teton County Board of County Commissioners approved a contract for the next stage of the process with Western Land Group, a consultant it hired to facilitate the transfers, which have been discussed for more than 20 years. The contract, approved Sept. 15, will see the county spend $40,000 to prepare a “term sheet” for U.S. Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyo., outlining what the county wants to see in the legislation intended to transfer the parcels. Barrasso’s office will draft the bill.

“I think this is really important,” Commissioner Greg Epstein said. “We’ve been working on this for many, many years. We have good momentum. I’m proud to be able to say we keep moving forward.”

The 20 or so parcels are owned and managed by the Bureau of Land Management, but their locations — scattered through riparian habitat roughly 80 miles northwest of the BLM’s Pinedale field office — make them difficult and expensive for the BLM to manage. They include the Wilson and South Park boat ramps, land north of Emily Stevens Park and popular BLM sites on Fall Creek Road.

The county has pursued different strategies in the past for transferring parcels, and different government entities have at times expressed interest in taking over the riparian lands. But Teton County has emerged as the entity most likely to take them over. Western Land Group recommended earlier this year that the county stick to a legislative approach, and its recommendation has, in turn, stuck.

Members of the public had expressed concern about the county commissioners’ earlier decision to fund a contract including only $20,000 worth of work toward a term sheet, even as other members of the community wondered whether cost savings could be found in the additional $40,000. The contract was approved in full, meaning that up to $60,000 is allocated.

What remains to be seen is what the term sheet will look like, and how closely it will hew to the 2008 ownership transfer plan that laid out guidelines for the exchanges.