• 43°

Half of Farquhars land on the line

MONTGOMERY &8212; Today, the fate of more than half of the Farquhar State Cattle Ranch property could be decided during the quarterly meeting of the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust board of trustees.

During the group&8217;s meeting at the State Capitol members are scheduled to hear updates on the program&8217;s activities and tract assessments, including the first appraisal of the lands at the ranch in which the board has expressed interest. Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner of Conservation M. Barnett Lawley, who also sits on the board, said previously the board could proceed with a vote to make an offer on the tracts at the meeting if a favorable appraisal was returned.

Alabama Department of Corrections Public Information Manager Brian Corbett said the sale of the property was put on hold after interest was expressed by Forever Wild, due to the tract&8217;s prairie habitat unique to the Black Belt region. An offer by the organization must be accepted by ADOC Commissioner Richard Allen before the process is complete, and Corbett said any property not purchased by Forever Wild will be offered to other state agencies before being opened to public bid.

Howard, who said he will miss the 10 a.m. board meeting due to legislative duties, said his main concern at this point is saving the jobs at the ranch located outside of Greensboro as well as maintaining the catfish supply from the ranch to plants in the area that employee a number of his constituents.

Howard is working to garner interest in other state agencies, which will have the next chance at purchasing the property prior to public bids. He is hoping to continue and increase the catfish operations, which are all that remain of the ranch&8217;s previous products.

Howard said the ABPP has sent a representative to assess the properties at the ranch, but said he has yet to hear any response from the board.

Sale background

Gov. Bob Riley and Allen announced their intention to sell 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 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 originally said all property that will be sold will be appraised, advertised and sold to the highest bidder.

Forever Wild Background

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.