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Dayton residents applaud state officials for rejecting land swap 3-1

The yearslong saga that pitted the Sinclair Oil family against small-town residents ended in favor of the public.

Dayton Mayor Cliff Reed asks state officials to listen to the people they represent and reject a land swap proposed by Columbus Peak Ranch. Ranch member Ross Matthews, dressed in jeans in front of Reed, listens. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Sheridan County residents applauded state officials Thursday after they voted to reject a land swap near Dayton that would have put state-owned mountain-front acreage in private hands in exchange for a sagebrush prairie lot.

The Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners voted 3-1 in favor of Auditor Kristi Racines’ motion to reject the Columbus Peak Ranch exchange proposal. State Treasurer Curt Meier cast the lone vote in favor of the swap.

Secretary of State Chuck Gray and Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder joined Racines to kill the exchange as proposed. Gov. Mark Gordon, chairman of the board, did not vote. He did not offer an explanation, but rules allow him to abstain when there is not a tie vote among the other commission members.

The Columbus Peak Ranch could again propose an exchange of property near Dayton, according to discussion at the land commissioners’ meeting in Casper, but any new swap would have to contain different parameters.

Who said what

Dayton Mayor Cliff Reed noted the overwhelming public opposition that has dogged the exchange since it was proposed in 2019.

“I was elected to represent my people … a small town of 850,” he said. He asked the commissioners “to represent the people that put forth all this information … bringing it out from the darkness.”

The values of the exchange parcels — 560 acres of state trust foothills property that would be swapped for 628 acres of Columbus Peak prairie property — should be obvious and clear, critic Rick Clark told the commission. He argued that appraisals, paid for by Columbus Peak Ranch, are off base and that the proposal won‘t achieve the aim of increasing revenue to Wyoming’s trust.

Without clarity in the appraisals, “there is no clear long-term benefit to the trust,” Clark said.

Columbus Peak Ranch member Russ Matthews commended Dayton area residents for their tenacious attitude. “For over three years, they’ve put up all kinds of objections, which have mostly been debunked,” he said.

“Every time their ideas are debunked, they come up with a new one,” Matthews said. “This certainly just seems to me like a delay game.”

Why it matters

The state foothills parcel lies in rolling country regularly used by elk and deer within two miles of public national forest land west of Dayton in Sheridan County. The private Columbus Peak Ranch property is 7 miles from the national-forest-managed mountains, east of Dayton, and near a highway and utilities that make it more compatible for development.

State legislators from the Dayton-Sheridan region opposed the exchange in a 2021 letter. Sheridan County commissioners and the Dayton Town Council also opposed the exchange. Efforts to negotiate a compromise among critics and the Columbus Peak Ranch failed.

History

Appraisers calculate the value of the state’s 560-acre foothill property between $3.36 million and $3.53 million. The 628-acre private parcel owned by Columbus Peak is valued between $2.64 million and $2.98 million.

Columbus Peak Ranch would have made up the difference in the value of the exchange parcels with a “Cash Equalization Payment,” plus as much as $295,000 extra, for a total CEP of $800,000. Treasurer Meier, who advocated for the exchange during the 90-minute meeting, said Columbus’ Peak would give even more.

“Mr. Matthews has said … in a private conversation … that he might be able to sweeten that pot a little bit to 880,000 [dollars],” Meier said.


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.


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