A 391-acre parcel of state trust land near Bluff sold at auction on October 19. While it appeared as if the auction was going to be between the Hole in the Rock Foundation and conservation groups, it was a third-party who purchased the land.
With a bid by Joe Hunt of $500,000, Lyman Family Farms secured the land. The privately-owned company has purchased a number of properties in southern Utah.
The State Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) auctioned a dozen properties throughout the state in a sale that netted $5.5 million for schools in Utah.
Lyman Family Farms purchased several pieces of property, including the Comb Ridge property, 180 acres in Dry Valley near Photograph Gap, and additional properties in Wayne, Uintah, Carbon, and Washington counties. The privately-owned company spent $3,285,000 at the auction.
While Lyman Family Farms is new to many observers, they are very familiar to SITLA.
“Joe Hunt has attended SITLA auctions for many years,” said Chris Webb, who serves as an advisor to Hunt. “He is a big supporter of education.”
“Joe Hunt could see the potential repercussions of the sale,” said Webb, “which provided additional motivation to protect the land.”
Chris Webb is the chief contracting officer for the Air Medical Resource Group, a group of 13 companies that includes Eagle Air Med. Webb said he is not involved with Lyman Family Farms but serves as an advisor to Joe Hunt.
Hunt has significant ownership of Air Medical Resource Group.
The Friends of Cedar Mesa, a Bluff-based conservation advocacy group, had opposed the auction, fearing the property would be commercialized.
The Hole in the Rock Foundation, which operates the Bluff Fort, has stated that it hoped to use the property for historical re-enactments of the famed Hole in the Rock Expedition. The expedition brought the first settlers to Bluff in 1880.
The Hole in the Rock Foundation has said that it intended to protect this property in its present condition.
SITLA had determined a minimum bid of $284,000. In the initial round of sealed bids, the Conservation Fund bid $301,000 for the property. In addition, the Hole in the Rock Foundation bid $300,000 and Lyman Family Farms bid $450,000.
With three three bidders submitting sealed bids, the purchase then went to open auction. The Conservation Fund bid up to $485,000 before Joe Hunt submitted the winning bid of $500,000.
Webb said there are no current plans for the property but added that there have been conversations with the Hole in the Rock Foundation and said, “This should be a blessing for them.”
The 391-acre section sits to the north of Highway 163 between Butler Wash and the top of Comb Ridge.
Webb said that most of the properties that Lyman Family Farms purchased have remained in greenbelt. He adds that grazing rights on the properties have continued as they are.
“This property will continue to hold value,” said Webb, “particularly if the Bears Ears National Monument is created.”
If the proposed monument is designated, it is possible that large portions of state trust land will be swapped out for properties in other areas of the state.
The Friends of Cedar Mesa expressed disappointment in the results of the auction, characterizing the sale as privatizing the land.
In a press release, the organization stated, “The results show what happens when lands that should be public are not protected for future generations.”
The October 19 sale generated $5.5 million in revenues and is the largest SITLA auction to date.
When Utah was created as a state in 1896, thousands of 640-acre sections were set aside as trust lands. They have been sold and leased over the years, with proceeds benefiting the education system in Utah.
Proceeds go to the Permanent State School Fund, which has grown to more than $2 billion. In 2016, the San Juan School District received $315,655 from the fund.