Legislators Grill BLM Over Sale Of 300 Acres To PacifiCorp In Southwest Wyoming

Spurred by recent controversy over the BLM's proposed Rock Springs Resource Management plan, Wyoming legislators Monday grilled the agency over the sale of 300 acres of public land in Sweetwater County to PacifiCorp.

Leo Wolfson

June 11, 20245 min read

Jim Bridger Power Plant near Rock Springs, Wyoming.
Jim Bridger Power Plant near Rock Springs, Wyoming. (Getty Images)

The federal Bureau of Land Management can’t seem to avoid blistering questions and public scrutiny in Wyoming.

On Monday, the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Agriculture Committee grilled BLM officials about the agency’s plans to sell more than 300 acres of federal land to energy giant PacifiCorp in Sweetwater County. The appraised fair market value for the 307.5-acre parcel is $115,000, which is what it’s being sold for.

The sale, which was announced in April, is being done to ​​bolster efficiency at the adjacent Jim Bridger Power Plant near Rock Springs, which is owned by PacifiCorp. A PacifiCorp spokesperson told Cowboy State Daily then that owning the land will simplify processes when the Jim Bridger plant reaches the end of its operational life in 2036.

None of this alleviated the concern of some members of the Ag Committee.

State Rep. Allen Slagle, R-Newcastle, complained that the public wasn’t given enough notice about the sale.

“It seems to me a little ironic that we have a big corporation that comes to the BLM for a land sale and I haven’t heard about it until just recently,” Slagle said.

PacifiCorp submitted the purchase request to the BLM in May 2019, and it wasn’t announced publicly until April.

There has been some negative attention cast on PacifiCorp and its subsidiary Rocky Mountain Power in recent years in Wyoming for various issues, including controversial electricity rate hikes. PacifiCorp is partnering with Bill Gates-founded TerraPower to bring a Natrium demonstration plant to nearby Kemmerer.

The land in question is considered disposable under the current Sweetwater County Resource Management Plan, which designates property owned by the BLM that can be sold.

Marton Comparison

During Monday’s discussion, there were a few references made to the 2023 Marton Ranch federal land swap outside Casper, which required input from the Legislature to get done. As a result of that sale, a nearly 37,000-acre property along the North Platte River was sold to the BLM last year and opened to the public.

Sen. Bob Ide, R-Casper, implored the BLM to continue seeking approval from the Legislature for sales such as these, as the U.S. Constitution’s enclave law states that if the federal government buys any state land, it requires the consent of the Legislature.

“I would hope that you guys would consider that if you’re gobbling up any more private land in Wyoming,” Ide said.

Wyoming BLM Director Andrew Archuleta said there is no such requirement for the direct sale of federal land to a private buyer under federal law.

Slagle mentioned how a U.S. Forest Service land exchange in his area has been pending for about 25 years.

“Looks like this (PacifiCorp land purchase) has been an expedited deal for a big corporation compared to the land exchange up in the northeast part of the state where it’s multiple small landowners involved,” he said.

Archuleta said the BLM is working to better streamline its process for federal land transactions, but these exchanges can be very difficult because of the requirement that any sale take place for fair market value. If a particular land being traded comes under value, then additional parcels must be located to include in a sale.

“Land exchanges get very complicated very quickly,” he said.

Direct land sales to a private buyer, Archuleta said, are much less common.


Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, co-chair of the Ag Committee, said Wyoming has “felt a little left out” on some major BLM decisions in recent years. She expressed empathy for BLM’s local staff in Wyoming, who operate under the direction of the presidential administration in the Oval Office, yet take in most of the public feedback.

“We appreciate your willingness to work with us and just searching for other ways and other means that we can maintain some sovereignty and a say in some of these issues,” she said.

Last fall, many Wyoming residents reacted with outrage when the BLM announced a controversial Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Rock Springs area.

Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, questioned what will happen to the federal land once it's transferred to PacifiCorp.

Archuleta said he didn’t know off-hand, but stressed that BLM staff would have checked that out to make sure the use of the land aligns with the current Rock Springs RMP.

What’s It For?

PacifiCorp spokesperson David Eskelsen told Cowboy State Daily the BLM purchase is for property adjacent to a wastewater evaporation pond at the Jim Bridger plant, which is used to dispose of materials from sulfur dioxide emission control systems at the plant.

PacifiCorp has a right of way agreement on the property with the BLM to allow construction, operation and maintenance of the pond and related equipment.

“The most important benefit to owning the parcel is for the eventual permanent closure of the pond,” Eskelsen said. “Ownership of the land makes it much easier to deal with remaining materials, installation of monitoring wells or pumping wells if required, and the construction of access roads or other infrastructure that may be needed.”

Brad Purdy, deputy state director of communications for BLM, emphasized to the committee that PacifiCorp had been granted a right of way a number of years ago on the property and had already been acquiring small sections when possible.

“PacifiCorp has just found it a little easier for them and has just gone ahead and purchased the property,” Purdy said. “As far as PacifiCorp was willing to pay the fair market value, which they were, we just sort of move forward with it.”

Archuleta said the BLM typically does a non-competitive sale when there is a specific industry looking to purchase land adjacent to land it already owns and no other parties are interested in the property.

The comment period for the sale closed June 3. Archuleta said the sale will be finalized in the next few months.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

Share this article



Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter