WASHINGTON — The town of Mantua, Box Elder County — population 756 — once sold the federal government 31.5 acres of land for $1. Now, the town would like that unused land back for free. But the Obama administration on Wednesday said it wants full market value for that land instead.

Harris Sherman, undersecretary of Agriculture, told a Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on Wednesday that the administration opposes a bill by the Utah delegation that seeks to give Mantua the land for free.

"Our concern with the bill is it does not provide for fair market value to the Forest Service, which runs counter to well-established, long-standing policies," he testified.

He added, "We are clearly willing to work with the town of Mantua to effectuate this conveyance. We want to do so under the terms of the Townsite Act, which requires us to receive fair market value for the conveyance."

That, of course, could create obstacles in the Senate for the bill sponsored by Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, both R-Utah. However, the House already passed last year on a 396-1 vote an identical bill introduced there by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

Bishop told the House at the time that Mantua had given the Forest Service the land 60 years ago for $1 and "the Forest Service forgot they had the land. It was not part of their inventory. It is surrounded by land that is either private or in control of the city already."

Bishop said the town is considering using it for such things as expanding a cemetery and building a new town hall, fire station, park or a school.

"The land has limited value for the federal government, but has a major value for public purposes for the city of Mantua," Bishop told the House.

No one at the hearing Wednesday questioned Sherman about his statement on the Utah bill, and instead focused on other public lands bills also being discussed at the hearing.

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