Chuck Gray Says He’ll Vote For State To Keep Kelly Parcel, Not Auction It

Secretary of State Chuck Gray said he’ll vote for the state to keep the Kelly Parcel, not auction it, when the State Board of Land Commissioners meet Thursday. Other member of the board haven’t said how they’ll vote.

LW
Leo Wolfson

December 06, 20235 min read

Members and supporters of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance rally against the potential public auction of the Kelly parcel in Grand Teton National Park.
Members and supporters of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance rally against the potential public auction of the Kelly parcel in Grand Teton National Park. (Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance)

Many questions remain about what the State Board of Land Commissioners will decide on a controversial dispute on a tract of public land in Teton County known as the Kelly Parcel.

So far, Secretary of State Chuck Gray is the only one of the state’s top five elected officials on the commission to say publicly how he’ll vote on whether the state will keep the 640 undeveloped acres of pristine land that borders Grand Teton National Park, or put it up for public auction.

Last week, the Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI) recommended the board to put the land up for auction. This recommendation runs contrary to what the agency said was the most popular sentiment from the 8,232 comments it received from the public about the parcel.

On Tuesday, Gray released a statement saying he will vote against putting the parcel up for auction, a sentiment similar to what he told Cowboy State Daily on Nov. 9.

“My opposition to the disposal of the Kelly Parcel stems from my longstanding concern that selling off such an invaluable piece of property in Teton County is not in the best interests of the state of Wyoming,” Gray said in the Tuesday statement. “I also remain skeptical that the appraisal brought forward matches the true value of this priceless piece of property.”

The parcel has been appraised at $62.5 million, and the OSLI recommended it go up for auction with a minimum bid of $80 million.

Gov. Mark Gordon declined to comment to Cowboy State Daily on how he would vote prior to Thursday’s meeting. A spokesperson for Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder was not able to immediately reach her for comment and State Treasurer Curt Meier did not immediately respond.

Alternatives?

State Auditor Kristi Racines wouldn’t divulge how she plans to vote, but said the commission may have other options besides voting for or against putting the parcel up for auction.

She said new information is often provided at the board’s meetings that ends up significantly swaying decisions from how members expected to vote entering the meetings.

“Sometimes we come up with alternative solutions that are more manageable,” she said.

There are a few other alternative solutions that appear most readily available for the board to pursue on the Kelly Parcel.

One would be for the board to delay taking action on the auction until after the Legislature is given the opportunity next spring to try and address the fate of the land, an option Racines said she may be supportive of.

But some have said there is an intense urgency to address the Kelly Parcel and hand it off to the federal government as soon as possible, as it has indicated it is ready to purchase the land now, but likely won’t be forever.

“The money is available now, it won’t be forever but it could be for awhile,” Racines said.

The board could also attempt to put stipulations on the auction that prevent the land from being sold for private development, or that facilitate a direct transaction to Grand Teton National Park, which surrounds the state land.

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What Does The Public Want?

She also said it’s not the duty of the Board of Land Commissioners to strictly go with the most popular option favored by the public, although unlike OSLI they do consider public input.

“The Constitution’s directive to the board does not tell us to take into account what one side or other is most popular on any issue,” Racines said.

Gray added that, “Given the permanence and magnitude” of the decision, not enough time has been provided to allow the public to weigh in on the parcel.

The public was given 60 days to comment on the proposed auction, from Oct. 2 through Dec. 1. In addition, four public meetings were held that were attended by a total of 170 people across the state.

“I want you to know that I have listened to your concerns and share them,” Gray said. “Because the proposed disposal is not in the best interests of Wyoming, I will be voting no when this matter comes before the State Board of Land Commissioners on Thursday.”

Although Gray correctly mentioned in his statement that the vast majority of the public comments were opposed to the sale, what he didn’t mention was that most of them said they want the land directly sold to Grand Teton National Park, not that they don’t want the land not sold at all.

The parcel now brings in $2,845 in leasing revenue each year for the state. However, when considering the annual average appreciation rate for rural land in Wyoming of 3.52% per year for the parcel that was appraised at $62.5 million, the state could expect the value of the land to grow to around $150 million in 39 years.

Although OSLI has recommended starting the auction sale at $80 million, investment earnings from the sale proceeds would result in a lower rate of 6.4% return every five years.

Racines said the Kelly Parcel is the first state lands auction she will rule on since joining the board in early 2019, meaning it is also the first for every other board member and least since Gordon was state treasurer.

“We’ve all had to learn about this process,” Racines said.

The board will also consider a highly contested state lands exchange at its meeting on Thursday involving the Columbus Peak Ranch.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter