Payson Iv Tnf Land Exchange Derailed

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The Payson IV land exchange -- a proposal to swap private land around the state for U.S. Forest Service land in and around Payson -- has unraveled.

A group of investors that wanted to trade pockets of private land in national forests around the state for 1,570 acres of federal land along Payson's boundaries have pulled out of the deal, Payson Ranger Steve Gunzel said.

"Due to the time element involved, many of the proponents have pulled out and the package has collapsed," Forest Service Land Specialist Rod Byers said. "We'll eventually be putting together another package, but my best guess is it won't be until 2000."

Representatives of FLEX, a specialized land brokerage firm in the Valley that was negotiating the deal for private investors, did not return phone calls for comment.

The initial Payson IV investors proposed the Payson IV land exchange in 1993 under the assumption that the deal would take two to three years to gain federal approval.

Since then, the federal government has doubled the number of steps and the amount of time it takes to complete a federal land exchange, Byers said.

The Forest Service also lost several key people in its land-exchange-review system to retirement and transfers and found itself ill-equipped to replace them, he said.

Those losses further slowed the process, Byers said, "and it just got to be too costly and too long for some of the investors. Some decided to join other land exchanges that were further along in the process and some decided to develop their properties.

"This is a lost opportunity for us because our No. 1 objective is to pick up those private holdings to keep them from being developed in the middle of the woods, but if we can't accommodate them in a timely fashion, their options are limited."

The Forest Service trades federal land near urban areas for private land surrounded by national forest to give towns and cities room to grow and prevent subdivisions from breaking up federally managed land.

But despite the Payson IV setback and the mounting red tape involved in federal land exchanges, Byers said he's confident the Forest Service will receive other offers for the federal land that's eligible for trade near Payson.

"There's no doubt other developers will be interested in it," he said, "and our second objective (for land exchanges) is to square off town boundaries and sell off properties that are sandwiched between private lands, because those locations can't be managed well as forest land. We can't graze cattle on those tracts, we can't offer them as timber sales.

"We have good reasons for trading out those properties and we still have pieces in Payson that we would still like to trade out."

In the works
Three other land exchanges -- Star Valley II, Ellison Creek and the Tonto Apache Tribe -- are still in the works, Byers said, but the Star Valley II and Ellison Creek exchanges have been slowed by the Forest Service's staffing problems.

"They've been held up due to the workload," he said. "They're on hold until staff has time to work on them."

Investors in the Star Valley II exchange want to trade 679 acres of private land around the state for nearly 192 acres of forest land between the Knolls subdivision east of Payson and the base of Monument Peak.

The Ellison Creek exchange was proposed by the homeowners in the Ellison Creek subdivision who currently lease the land their houses are built on from the Forest Service. They want to exchange 361 acres of private land in national forests around the state for the 142 acres their subdivision is built on.

The Tonto Apache Tribe wants to exchange 359 acres of private land for 272 acres south and east of its reservation for expansion. Local forest officials are waiting for the go-ahead for that exchange from their regional office in Albuquerque.

Future proposals
By the end of August, Byers said he expects to begin negotiations for land exchanges for the Thompson Draw Unit One and Unit Two subdivisions, which were built on 150 to 200 acres of federal land. Unit One is south of Highway 260 on the Bear Flats Road east of Payson, and Unit Two is just off Highway 260 on the Control Road.

"(The homeowners) have purchased land and we expect them to make us a formal offer by the end of August," he said.

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