Federal Land Trades Down, But Not Out

Payson IV, Star Valley II remain in exchange game


Star Valley II Land Exchange investors lost a 160-acre piece of their puzzle a couple of weeks ago when a major player pulled out of the deal.

They have since acquired replacement property to trade with the U.S. Forest Service, but Rod Byers of the Payson Ranger District said the switch will delay the exchange.

Star Valley II investors want to trade private parcels surrounded by national forest for 191 acres of federal land ranging from the Knolls subdivision south of Highway 260 to the base of Monument Peak.

Forest officials were just finishing a required environmental analysis of the first Star Valley II proposal when Cory Frampton, a Valley investor with the group, pulled his property out of the deal, Byers said.

The Star Valley II land exchange with the Forest Service has been four years in the making.

"They probably still have a valid offer," Byers said Wednesday. "The original stuff on the federal land hasn't changed. We'll look at these new lands being offered to us. If these are properties we've wanted, we'll go back to Star Valley II, republish all the legal descriptions, request public input, and complete the environmental analysis. Everything we've done on the federal land is still valid."

Rearranging the pieces

The new Star Valley package includes property that was part of the Payson IV Land Exchange, which fell apart last summer.

Bill Broce, a former investor with the Payson IV Land Exchange who is now with Star Valley II, said the Star Valley exchange is comprised of two groups Star Valley Land Exchange LLC and Cline Ranch LLC.

Broce said the investment group is substituting more than 700 acres for the 160 acres Frampton pulled out of the deal.

"They're prime lands that the Forest Service really wants 600 acres in the Apache Sitgreaves, 20 in the Mazatzal wilderness and 85 in Greenlee County," Broce said. "The majority was purchased from Payson IV."

Payson IV investors wanted to trade 4,500 acres of private land for 1,552 Forest Service acres in Payson.

Several of the investors involved with Payson IV held onto their property -- others decided to sell to someone other than the Forest Service.

Reinventing Payson IV

The remaining Payson IV investors held a meeting last week to figure out who's in and who's out, Broce said.

Tom Collins, owner of B & R Interiors in Payson, was one of 10 investors who decided to hang tough.

He said the remaining investors are operating under a new name the Payson Municipal Airport Land Exchange. "It's cut way back in size," he said. "It's nothing like it was."

The group no longer has its former bargaining representative, FLEX, but has hired a Denver, Colo. company, Western Land Group, to work as a liaison with the Forest Service and the town, Collins said.

Payson's newest land-exchange group is made up of several smaller groups, Collins said. "Our personal group is buying property by Montezuma's Castle," he said.

The group wants to trade for land primarily in the area near the airport a section of town that would be well-suited for low-water-use light industry, Collins said.

"The town wants part of what we would be involved with," he said. "The Forest Service has no use for it -- what are they going to do with it? I'd like to get it over and done with. It's been a long time.

"The last trades took roughly four years and, boom, it was all set and done. Not this one -- this one's taken a lot more time."

Collins compared the latest Payson exchange effort to that of the Star Valley II exchange.

"It's just like this exchange," he said. "Somebody dropped out, but that doesn't mean that everybody will drop out."

The new deal

Tom Glass, founder of Western Land Group, said the Payson group is hoping to acquire as much as 600 acres of federal land.

"The exchange is likely not to include all of that," he said. "It'll be based on fair market value. I don't know what the final acreage will be. It won't be more than 600 acres, and it's likely to be considerably less.

"But there's no agreement to do an exchange," he said. "There's only an agreement to look at federal lands and to look at lands acquired for exchange.

"It's excellent property in terms of being suitable for the Forest Service. I believe it's 1,000 to 1,300 acres the people acquired.

"But the Forest Service has only agreed to look at the values with us. It's an evaluation-consultation stage."

An exchange probably won't be proposed until the end of the year, Glass said.

"We've been looking out into the distance for five years," Collins said. "When all is said and done, we're looking at finalizing everything in a couple of years.

"Everybody in this thing isn't a multi-millionaire. This is the first time I've been involved with a land exchange, and believe me, it's one harrowing learning experience."

Back to the end of the line

The Star Valley exchange could have disintegrated like the Payson IV exchange did when a major investor pulled out, Byers said, but the remaining investors in Star Valley II stayed with the plan.

Star Valley II land exchange investors are bringing 679.52 acres to the bargaining table, but Byers said he's unsure how long the exchange will be delayed.

"It'll be May or June before we put this back on the streets," he said, referring to the public input that's required. "We're adding months, at least."

"They kinda lost their place in line," he said. "Sometime in April, we'll be looking for public input on the Tonto Apache exchange."

Tonto Apache land exchange

With the Tonto Apache exchange, Byers said the Forest Service will acquire one of only two living peat bogs in the state, which is located in Little Green Valley. "It's a unique habitat the Tribe bought for the exchange," he said.

The Tribe also plans to trade a 160-acre parcel in the Verde Valley that straddles a river and rich riparian habitat. More than 130 acres on Salome Creek, north of Roosevelt Lake, and 99 acres near Pinedale also are included in the package.

"Star Valley II will have to wait until we do the work on the Tonto Apache exchange," Byers said.

In return for the property the Tribe has offered for trade, it will get 177.76 acres east of the reservation and 25 acres west of the Beeline Highway just south of Payson's new multi-event center.

Summer home exchanges

Byers said another exchange at Ellison Creek should be finalized sometime in June. More than 50 summer homeowners have had permits for the 142 acres of federal land their cabins are built on since the 1950s. The homeowners have offered to trade 230 acres in Pleasant Valley, 50 acres on the Apache National Forest, 40 acres south of Williams on the Kaibab, and 41 acres in the Prescott National Forest for the Ellison Creek property, Byers said.

Another group of summer homeowners at Thompson Draw will exchange private land for the federal land their homes are built on.

"They're looking to acquire 80 acres on two tracts," Byers said. "They have purchased 11 unimproved tracts in the Coconino National Forest for the exchange."

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