Ranch purchase could be completed by early 2008

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 6, 2007

MONTGOMERY &8212; Despite continued efforts by Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro, to stop the planned close and sale of the Farquhar State Cattle Ranch, approximately 2,000 acres of the Farquhar State Cattle Ranch in Greensboro could be purchased by the Forever Wild Land Trust as soon as the beginning of 2008.

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner of Conservation M. Barnett Lawley, who also sits on the board of the trust, said Forever Wild could make an offer on the nearly 2,000 of the 3,869 acres of the ranch it is interested in as early as the group&8217;s December meeting. He said the board will receive the first of two appraisals it needs to purchase the property at that meeting, and, if the appraisal is favorable, the board could make an offer to Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen for the property, pending a favorable report from the second appraisal.

Staying true to its conservation charter, Lawley said the property will likely be utilized as a field trial area for dogs by Forever Wild as well as continuing the handicapped hunting program already in place on the ADOC property. He said the trust is interest in the tracts of land in the middle of the four areas divided up for sale by the ADOC, leaving approximately the fate of 2,000 additional acres of the ranch undecided.

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Howard, however, is not waiting on Forever Wild. He sees little difference in their purchase of the property and an outright bid process by the ADOC in regards to the blow to the region&8217;s economics a sell will bring.

Howard said expanding the site&8217;s inmate work program and bringing farming facilities up to date will increase the productivity and profits of the ranch. He said the ADOC is looking to build both a new women&8217;s prison and intensive treatment facility, both of which could be built on the ranch property with the community&8217;s support.

Howard said the prison oversight committee is currently looking at all of these options and a subcommittee has been formed to explore ways to keep the ranch open.

Howard said he has researched bringing defense department contracts to the site &8212; possibly bringing an arms manufacturing company to the area if the ranch is closed.

He said such a move hinges on maintaining some of the property.

Gov. Bob Riley and ALDOC Commissioner Richard Allen announced their intention to sell the ranch and four other ALDOC properties at a July 11 press conference, stating only the state lands that were a drain on taxpayers.

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 its 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.

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.