Alternative plans discussed for Farquhar

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Farquhar State Cattle Ranch might not be put up for public bid as previously planned by the Alabama Department of Corrections (ALDOC).

Rather, the 3,869 acres of land and existing facilities may be bought by Alabama&8217;s Forever Wild Land Trust (FWLT), which, as a state entity, supercedes the bidding process. If both FWLT and the ALDOC approve the purchase, all ALDOC functions on the property will cease and the land will be used for recreational purposes determined by the FWLT.

Corbett said FWLT is a conservation program that purchases land across the state. The program&8217;s Web site said the board of FWLT is currently focusing on acquiring land in central Alabama.

The State Lands Division also manages all properties acquired by the FWLT.

Brantley said the program&8217;s board has previously expressed interest in obtaining land in the Black Belt for conservation, due to a unique prairie habitat in the area. He said the land at the ranch includes tracks that contain such land, which has driven interest in its purchase.

For consideration of purchase by FWLT, the State Lands Division must first receive a written nomination of a property &8212; either by the property owner or a person nominating lands held by another owner. If the owner of the property is willing to sell, the properties are evaluated under four categories &8212; nature preserve, recreation, wildlife management area and state park &8212; and ranked in each category and overall before being presented to the FWLT Board of Trustees. The board then selects the best properties available, with consideration to acquiring properties evenly within the northern, central and southern regions of the state.

FWLT was established in 1992 after a state constitutional amendment was passed by an 83-percent vote &8212; the largest margin of any land trust amendment in any southeastern state. The lands are managed under a multiple use management principle to ensure all resources &8212; including recreation, hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, aesthetics, soil, water, forests and minerals &8212; are protected or enhanced. The State Lands Division must write a management plan that is presented to the board for approval within one year of property purchase.

Gov. Bob Riley and ALDOC Commissioner Richard Allen announced their intention to the ranch and four other ALDOC properties at a July 11 press conference, stating only state lands that were a drain on taxpayers and had a previous interest expressed in their purchase would be sold.

After conflicting figures from the ranch and the ALDOC shed doubt on the financial viability of the ranch, Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro, has worked to stop the sale and find ways to increase the site&8217;s profitability.

Riley and Allen said money generated by the sale of the ranch and the four other properties listed at the press conference would go toward the more than $90 million in capital improvement projects for Alabama Department of Corrections facilities.

Riley and Allen said all property that will be sold will be appraised, advertised and sold to the highest bidder.