Prison cattle ranch could be sold to state conservation group
MONTGOMERY (AP)— The state cattle ranch at the center of the prison system's contentious plan to sell off land could be acquired by a state conservation group instead of a private party, officials said Wednesday.
Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said a sale to the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust would be positive all around because the department can generate money for much-needed improvements while keeping the land in the public arena. But some critics aren't convinced.
Prisons Commissioner Richard Allen and Gov. Bob Riley announced in July that five parcels of corrections property would be sold to help pay for $90 million worth of capital improvements.
Corbett said the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust started expressing interest "within the last month or two since the sale was announced."
"It would be a win-win situation," he said of the trust acquiring the land. If the sale goes through, the property would essentially be transferred to one state agency to another.
The possible acquisition by Forever Wild was reported Wednesday by The Demopolis Times.
Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro, who has been among the most vocal opponents of shuttering the prison system's ranch, said conservation is a good thing but he and others are still worried about the economic impact on the Black Belt community.
"I'm opposed to the sale of it period — not only because of the impact from this district, but also that this is a form of rehabilitation for the inmates," he said. "I think places like that are the last that should be closed."
The public trust was established in 1992 by a constitutional amendment and acquires land with money that's mostly derived from royalties from offshore gas leases.
M. Barnett Lawley, commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said the trust gets about $7 million to $8 million annually from the leases and then tries to match that dollar-for-dollar with federal grants and other contributions.
He said the land can be transferred to the trust without having to go through a traditional bidding process because DOC is a fellow state agency. The board voted last week to have the first of two required appraisals done and would further discuss the sale at its December meeting.
Lawley said he understands the economic concerns for the area and some of the planned uses for the land would help undercut the loss of the ranch.
A 540-acre parcel of the cattle ranch was sold for $1.65 million earlier this year and Corbett said the remaining 3,869 acres was recently appraised for $9.058 million.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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