Friday, October 5, 2007

Forest Service dissents on Sun Valley Co. land swap

Agency deems transaction not in the public interest

Express Staff Writer

Acreage southeast of River Run Lodge was part of a potential land swap between Sun Valley Co., BLM and the U.S. Forest Service. Sun Valley Co. is seeking land near Boundary Creek Campground for the final nine holes of golf planned on its property. Photo by David N. Seelig

A federal bill seeking a three-way land swap between Sun Valley Co., the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service hit a snag when the Forest Service announced it could not support the bill as written.

Under the Idaho Land Conveyance Act of 2007, a bill introduced by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, in the Senate and by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, in the House, Sun Valley Co. would acquire roughly 40 acres of land administered by the Forest Service near Boundary Campground. In return, Sun Valley Co. will give land near River Run Lodge to the Forest Service that would in turn pass it to the BLM. Sun Valley Co. is seeking the land for the final nine holes of its 36-hole golf course master plan.

To complete the three-way transaction, the BLM would then give a small section of land to the Forest Service; specifics of that portion have yet to be determined. Forest Service spokeswoman Erin O'Connor said the BLM has not offered land that is within or adjacent to the Sawtooth National Forest.

"The Forest Service is not interested in managing isolated parcels of land," O'Connor said.

"The current parcel of National Forest Service land (the area Sun Valley Co. is seeking to acquire) is used by a lot people," O'Connor said. "The area includes one-half mile of singletrack trails that connect into Boundary trailhead and into Trail Creek. Outfitters and guides are permitted to use it. A lot of people use it. As it's currently proposed, this swap would not be in the public interest."

Jack Sibbach, Sun Valley Co. director of sales, marketing and public relations, said that if approved, the land would go toward other recreational endeavors in addition to golf, including multi-purpose trails similar to ones built above the new Gun Club and 9 hole golf course.

"We have no plans to cut anybody out who has been using the area," Sibbach said. "I personally spend a lot of time in that area jogging and biking."

In addition, the Forest Service requires land transactions to be on an equal market value basis. An appraisal conducted by the Forest Service concluded the swap was not equal. The bill, as it is written, proposes an acre-for-acre swap, not a market value exchange, O'Connor said.

"Transactions that are off by a certain percentage can be compensated for with cash," O'Connor said. "But more than that, a three-way exchange doesn't seem feasible."

The Forest Service does not have the authority to sell land outright.

O'Connor added that certain parcels within Forest Service jurisdiction are labeled either available or unavailable for land transactions, "and this parcel is not identified as available."

The land swap is not dead, however, as Congress can usurp the Forest Service and move forward with its approval.

"Congress certainly has the authority to pass the legislation and will ultimately decide what happens here," O'Connor said.

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