Amendment Ties Kelly Parcel Sale To Fate Of Controversial BLM Rock Springs Plan

The Wyoming House passed an amendment late Wednesday night that would tie the sale of the Kelly Parcel to the National Park Service to the fate of the BLM’s controversial Rock Springs management plan.

LW
Leo Wolfson

February 22, 20246 min read

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While most people in Wyoming were tucked away in their beds late Wednesday night, the Legislature was busy making important decisions about the fate of a pristine piece of state-owned land in Teton County known as the Kelly Parcel.

Around 11:30 p.m., the Legislature finalized an amendment proposed by state Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, that would tie the fate of the Kelly Parcel outside Jackson with a controversial BLM resource management plan (RMP) for the Rock Springs area.

Stith’s amendment, which passed by a somewhat large margin on a voice vote, states that the Wyoming governor shall make a determination on selling the Kelly Parcel to the federal government and Grand Teton National Park based on whether the BLM moves forward with its highly contested and agency preferred Alternative B proposal with respect to rights of way on certain sections of the plan.

This BLM plan has drawn strong backlash in Wyoming since it was proposed last fall.

The amendment would also come with the caveat that the federal government not select Alternative B with respect to fluid mineral leasing on a certain section of the RMP.

None of these stipulations would matter if the government doesn’t choose Alternative B, which is the most conservation-forward of four alternatives in managing about half of the BLM’s 3.6 million acres in that area.

“If the federal government wants us to play nice in the sandbox with respect to the Kelly Parcel, they need to play nice in the sandbox with us in southwest Wyoming,” Stith told Cowboy State Daily.

Holding Parcel For Hostage?

Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, called Stith’s amendment “legislative logrolling” and “a bad idea.”

“It’s a tit-for-tat kind of thing,” he said. “We’re telling the BLM it has to come out with a decision we like or we’re not going to sell property to the United States for a national park.”

After Stith’s amendment passed, Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, attempted to bring an amendment of his own that would have canceled out Stith’s.

“This decision being made right now in this budget bill is hasty, it’s unadvisable, and it should not be in the budget,” Bear said.

Bear’s amendment was defeated on a 34-28 vote, but not without a significant back-and-forth exchange.

Rep. Bill Allemand, R-Midwest, supported Bear’s amendment and said the Kelly Parcel should have “a few more zeros” added to its $62.5 million assessment.

Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, expressed some irritation about votes of this significance taking place so late at night.

“How this looks to the people of the state probably really isn’t great,” he said. “Middle of the night, bunch of tired people been at it all day, and we’re going to be asked to make one of the most important decisions of this entire session.”

What’s The Status?

The Kelly Parcel is a pristine 640 acres of state land in Teton County adjacent to Grand Teton National Park that has been recommended for public auction by the Office of State Lands and Investments.

The proposal for an open auction drew significant public feedback around the state late last fall, with many people urging the State Board of Land Commissioners to not sell it in a public auction out of fear it could be sold off for luxury home development.

There is now a stipulation built into the biennial budget that directs the board to sell the Kelly Parcel for no less than $100 million directly to the federal government.

The money from the sale would be placed in the state's Common School Permanent Land Fund, and at $100 million, would generate about $4 million a year in income, far more than the $2,800 in annual leasing revenue it generates.

Bear urged the House to hold onto the parcel to reap a much larger profit off in the future based on appreciation.

“It is a precious thing that we will not be able to generate again,” he said.

The proposal, which would still need to be approved by a joint conference committee made up of members from both chambers of the Legislature and Gov. Mark Gordon, gives legislative direction to the Board of Land Commissioners to dispose of the Kelly Parcel directly to the federal Department of the Interior. No action has been made to seriously challenge this so far during the legislative session.

Last December, the board voted to delay taking action on the Kelly Parcel to explore options for a potential land exchange that frees up mineral rights in other parts of the state.

Political Poker Chip

Stith has optimism that linking the land issues could sway the federal government in a positive direction.

“This is a way, frankly, to restore a sense of balance,” Stith said.

Jackson Democrat Reps. Mike Yin and Liz Storer said they support the proposal as it reflects the significant work Wyoming people have been doing behind the scenes to address both the Kelly Parcel and RMP issues.

“I support the Kelly Parcel going to the park, and if it brings a win for other people’s communities, I’m OK with that,” Yin said.

Right of way generally affects the right to travel through a certain area. Stith said his rights of way stipulation is critical because under Alternative B, new pipelines or fiber optic cables could not be installed in the Rock Springs RMP area.

Stith said he has some confidence that the BLM will listen to the suggestions a task force Gordon assembled to address the RMP, but said that group didn’t address rights of way issues, which is why he brought it up in his amendment.

The BLM has provided 15-year economic projections showing that it would cause a roughly $1 billion hit to the Rock Springs area.

“It is truly an extreme alternative,” he said.

When the previous RMP was finalized in 1997 under former President Bill Clinton’s administration, Stith said they took a much more reasonable approach.

House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, also successfully brought an amendment that conditions of the Kelly Parcel sale be predicated on allowing livestock grazing on the parcel and that it must be made available for public hunting in perpetuity.

On Thursday, the Senate was scheduled to hear an amendment proposed by Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, to use proceeds generated from the sale of the Kelly Parcel to purchase or invest in available public land parcels located in southwest Wyoming.

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

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter