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Got $750M? That’s what Wyoming lawmakers want for Teton Park’s ‘Kelly Parcel’

The bill, filed Wednesday, allows for an array of options: $750 million sale, a swap for $1 billion in mineral rights or an annual conservation lease.

The last rays of sunshine cast down on a state school trust property known as the Kelly Parcel in October 2023. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

A bill set for consideration at next week’s legislative budget session would enable Wyoming to offload its valuable “Kelly Parcel” — a square mile of state land locked within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park.

The sticker price for a straight sale, however, is an eye-opener.

Reps. Tom Walter (R-Casper), Steve Harshman (R-Casper), Lloyd Larsen (R-Lander) and Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper) on Wednesday introduced House Bill 121 – Kelly parcel-sale and leasing requirements, which demands a buyer pay no less than $750 million in cash for the 640 acres. The parcel of land was last appraised at $62.4 million in July 2022 — or a twelfth of the minimum set by the bill.

The legislation also leaves the door open for other temporary and permanent solutions to the Kelly Parcel saga, which has garnered national publicity. One option permitted by HB 121 would be to lease the land for conservation purposes, with the caveat that lease payments be for no less than $6 million annually.

Pressure to dispose of or maximize income from the Kelly Parcel comes from the Wyoming Constitution, which stipulates the Office of State Lands and Investments maximize returns from the section — and 3.4 million acres of other trust lands — in support of the state’s public schools. Recently, the Kelly Parcel hasn’t contributed much to that cause, generating roughly $3,000 annually from a grazing lease and permits for a cattle chute, guided mountain biking tours and a horseback ride-cookout operation.

House Bill 121 would also permit the Wyoming State Board of Land Commissioners to trade the Kelly Parcel to the federal government. An authorized trade — an idea unsuccessfully tried before — would have to return at least $1 billion in mineral rights, either coal in northeast Wyoming, trona in southwest Wyoming or a combination of the two, according to the legislation. Those mineral valuations would have to be appraised by the Office of State Lands and Investments. 

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder spoke optimistically about a trade for mineral rights in December, moments before the State Board of Land Commissioners pressed pause on a proposal to put the land to auction

“This is not a new concept,” Degenfelder said. “In fact it was explored nearly a decade ago by a group of individuals.”

The Office of State Lands and Investments pursued putting the land to auction partly because the Wyoming Legislature has stood in the way of a sale. Under the Wyoming Constitution, lawmakers must sign off on a direct sale. In 2021, legislators approved a Harshman amendment to a Kelly Parcel sale bill that set the floor price at $3.2 billion — some 82 times the appraised value at the time. 

Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper), then speaker, reads during the Wyoming Legislature’s 2019 session. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

Harshman, a HB 121 co-sponsor, signed his name to legislation in 2024 that brings the asking price down significantly. Still, $750 million would be a reach to come up with for the U.S. Department of Interior and its nonprofit partners. By law, the federal government cannot pay more than the appraised value of $62.4 million. The balance would have to come from other sources, and HB 121 does allow the State Board of Land Commissioners to “accept funds from another entity on behalf of the purchaser of the Kelly parcel.”

House Bill 121 also allows for Kelly Parcel payments to be made over time, provided the land is sold to “a single person” and that the transaction is completed by a specified time. 

The Grand Teton National Park Foundation raised money to help purchase Wyoming-owned inholdings in the park before. In 2016, the nonprofit partner to the park raised $23 million to enable the sale of a 640-acre state tract in the Antelope Flats area

If HB 121’s floor sale price of $750 million remains intact and the legislation passes, the Grand Teton National Park Foundation would be on the hook to come up with significantly more cash. Even if the U.S. Department of the Interior contributed the maximum allowed amount — $62.4 million — that leaves $687.6 million that would still have to be procured to meet lawmakers’ demands. 

Neither Walter, Harshman, Larsen nor Landen could be reached by WyoFile before this story published late Wednesday. 

The Wyoming Legislature’s 2024 budget session starts Monday.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.