SITLA to auction choice acres near trout fishery

Little Hole: But access to the site remains a tricky wild card
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Some 365 picturesque acres at Little Hole - the state's blue-ribbon trout fishery along the Green River in northeast Utah - can be yours for the right bid.

Just one catch: The buyer may not have access to the property.

But that doesn't seem to bother officials at the School Institutional Trust Lands Administration, who announced the parcel would go up for public auction. No date has been set for bidding.

When putting the land up for bid, SITLA noted that it turned down a controversial lease offer from Georgia-based Flint Timber, a developer that wants to build a private resort on the land.

The agency also passed up offers to a lease or purchase from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, as well as one from a Wellsville resident to buy the land at $700 an acre.

Those entities, however, are free to bid on the land at auction.

"We examined our best options and [an auction] was in the best interest of our clients, Utah school children," SITLA Director Kevin Carter said Tuesday.

Carter said the agency could get more money through an auction. But he conceded he had no other offers before him. According to guidelines, SITLA can only consider formal proposals submitted in a timely fashion.

"We had informal indications by people talking in the marketplace," said Carter, defending his reasons for going to auction.

But some fishing enthusiasts believe SITLA may have put the parcel up to the highest bid to avoid litigation.

"The way this shook out, if they proceed to auction, they could say everybody had their chance on it," said Paul Dremman, chairman of the governor's Blue Ribbon Fisheries Advisory Council.

SITLA estimates the ground to be worth between $915,000 and $1.9 million, according to its Sept. 1 "Little Hole Decision Letter."

According to Dremman, Flint Timber may be willing to bid much more than fair market value for the Little Hole piece.

"If Flint Timber really wants that property, the school trust could come out way ahead," Dremman acknowledged.

Neither officials from Flint Timber, nor its Utah partner, Spinnerfall Guide Service, could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Nonetheless, Dremann and fishing enthusiasts remain unsettled that SITLA was reluctant to work out an agreement with DWR to keep the land as open space for wildlife habitat. Flint Timber's plans for 10 cabins and a lodge would detract from the area's ambience and may impact spawning waters, they argue.

"I think SITLA had made up their mind that they weren't going to deal with DWR. Period," Dremman said. "But we fully intend to press the access issue as hard as we can."

In July, the Utah Attorney General's Office notified SITLA that it could not access the 365 acres in question from the adjacent land owned by DWR.

DWR Director Jim Karpowitz said his agency has not changed its stance.

"The information we have provided them shows there are unresolved issues of access. Until they are resolved, it is our position that there is no access."

SITLA's Carter said the land will go to auction whether or not access has been determined.

"The buyer will deal with it," he said.