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3-way transaction helps wildlife, commuters and school kids

Published: Thursday, May 24 2012 1:17 p.m. MDT

Construction continues on the Mountain View Corridor near 11800 South and 5200 West in Salt Lake County Tuesday, May 22, 2012. UDOT, DWR and SITLA are working on a land exchange for the project.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY  — A proposed land transaction contemplated since the mid-1980s is inching toward completion, fueled by the need for the Utah Department of Transportation to build the Mountain View Corridor.

The deal, which also involves the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Utah's School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, will allow UDOT to acquire 55-acres of land for the right-of-way to extend the corridor from 2100 South to 1300 South at approximately 5600 West.

That property is currently owned by DWR and is part of the agency's Lee Kay public shooting range, but is not utilized. For the agency to give up the property, federal restrictions require it to obtain other acreage with comparable wildlife value.

That component of the proposed transaction is where SITLA comes in, agreeing to sell off some its school trusts land property located in prime wildlife management areas and acquiring the corridor's right-of-way to sell to UDOT.

"These properties are housed in a larger sea of DWR ownership," said Kim Christy, SITLA's assistant director over surface management. "That is the principal effort here; we are trying to trade out of some of these wildlife sensitive areas." 

SITLA is an independent state agency that manages 3.4 million acres of trust lands for the financial benefit of Utah public schools and 11 other public institutions. Money generated from the lands is deposited in the state's Permanent School Fund, a perpetual endowment that annually distributes revenue to public schools.

In the initial phase of the transaction, SITLA will get cash for the half-dozen properties,   with the exact amount to be determined by pending appraisals. A liberal estimate of how much of the 4,700 acres of eligible property SITLA would turn over to wildlife resources will likely shrink as the appraisals come in, Christy said. While the land would be turned over for management purposes to the wildlife agency, Christy said the agency would not give up any of its mineral rights to those parcels.

One of the pieces of land the wildlife agency would likely acquire from SITLA is in a water fowl hunting area on the eastern shores of the Great Salt Lake in Box Elder County, said Mike Canning, DWR's habitat chief.

"At Waterfall Marsh we have been managing that for the public to hunt water fowl for upwards of 80 years now, and SITLA owns a section right in the middle," Canning said.

Another component of the initial phase in the three-way transaction is for wildlife resources to pick up a 688-acre parcel in western Carbon County's Gordon Creek area at the north end of Drunkard's Wash.

A down payment of $300,000 from the state agency will be made to SITLA by June 30, or the end of the fiscal year, to coalesce a critical wildlife area at Gordon Creek.

Both Canning and Christy said the land trade between their two agencies has been in the discussion stage since the mid-1980s, but an actual deal has never been finalized for one reason or another.

"I don't know the peculiarities of it, but it is indicative of the difficulties of consummating land exchanges," Christy said. "It takes many years, if not decades, to bring these to finality. … Credit goes to UDOT's interest in the corridor to reawaken our focus to try to get this done."

Teri Newell, UDOT's project director for the Mountain View Corridor, said the pending transaction will allow the extension of the west-side highway through that area when funding is available.

"It is definitely a win, win, win situation for all of us," she said.

Thus far, three miles of the planned 35-mile long corridor have been completed. That section in Utah County will continue north another 15 miles to 5400 South in Salt Lake County in the second phase under construction now. That phase should be done by the end of this year, Newell said. Ultimately, the corridor will connect with I-80.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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