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Our Views: Federal land sale would help state’s smallest county

July 28, 2018

A bill that turns over federal land to La Paz County is a model for selectively putting federal land to better use and this week passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

It seems the national debate about federal land use is so last year. It’s not. As evidenced by the passage of the LaPaz County bill, the wheels of government simply grind very slowly.

In this case, a transfer from federal to county ownership is being handled the right way. The county wants to create solar power development in the area and, ideally, sell this power to a nearby transmission line. In return, the county will pay fair market value plus conveyance costs, bringing an estimated $6 million into the federal piggy bank.

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar and Sen. Jake Flake are spearheading the efforts with bills introduced in their respective chambers.

A lot of people oppose federal land transfers in general, fearing oil wells, housing tracts and a loss of public access. Only the latter is true for those 8,000 acres of scrub desert in LaPaz County. In a county with just over five percent private taxable land, finding a place to create any kind of sizeable enterprise is difficult. The land in question is, to most appearances, open scrub desert producing no revenue to anyone.

To further ease any local land-grab issues, the lengthy Congressional process contrasts starkly with executive orders that created de-facto wilderness out of hundreds of thousands of acres in the West. Given a choice between one president’s whim and the full vetting of Congress, we’ll take the latter every day.

By itself, the sale at fair market value of the land to the county doesn’t change the county’s tax picture as it would still be untaxed government land. It would be to the county’s financial detriment to just sit on the property, especially since a $6 million purchase is big money for a county that recently teetered on bankruptcy.

It looks like a decent bet by the county, though. The proposed Ten West Link transmission line is planned to run through the area, allowing solar power a convenient way to link with the power markets. If it can get through the Senate, this sale is a good thing for Arizona’s smallest county and it’s a good model for the rest of the country for putting underused federal land to work.

— Today’s News-Herald