About Air and Water

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Conservation groups oppose land auction

The Associated Press - Sun, Aug. 26, 2007
AUSTIN -- Conservation groups that donated more than 9,000 acres near Big Bend National Park to Texas now oppose state efforts to auction the land to the highest private bidder.

The General Land Office closed bidding last week after receiving six bids and plans to announce the winner next month.

The Conservation Fund, which donated the land, sent the office a letter opposing the sale, especially if the new owner is a private user.

"It was the hope ... that this land would be made available to the general public for hunting and other recreational uses," Richard Erdman, Conservation Fund executive vice president, wrote in the Aug. 8 letter.

An official from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, which paid for the land and donated it to Texas through the Conservation Fund, threatened to quit donating if the sale goes through. The foundation has used land donations to set aside open space in 50 states and has given about 40,000 acres to Texas in the Chinati Mountains.

The deed stipulates that the state can sell the land only if it first offers it to the Parks and Wildlife Department and to the National Park Service, and then only if the fund approves the sale.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said that provision is probably unenforceable because a property owner should not have to ask the previous owner for permission to sell.

The land office can't manage the land, and the state and federal parks agencies have declined to take over the property, Patterson said.

Any sale would include restrictions, such as that the land office would retain water and mineral resources under the property. Off-road vehicles, utility lines and livestock grazing would be banned, Patterson said.
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