State Land Board and the Smiths continue to play “Let’s make a deal”

Brief by Central Staff

State Lands – January 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine

Remember the proposed trade of state land in Chaffee County that was halted by the district court in 2000? The deal is probably going to happen anyway, although in a different form. Instead of making a land-for-land trade with some cash on the side to even the transaction, the Land Board buys one parcel from the landowner for cash and then sells the other to that landowner for cash.

About two years ago, the Colorado State Land Board agreed to a swap: Thomas and Margie Smith of Kansas City would get the 640-acre Little Cochetopa School Section in Chaffee County in exchange for their 3,080-acre La Jara Creek Ranch near La Jara Reservoir in Conejos County.

That trade was halted by the Chaffee County District Court because the Land Board had not properly valued the Little Cochetopa School Section.

On Sept. 24, 2001, the Land Board purchased the La Jara ranch from the Smiths for $2,002,215. (In 2000, the ranch was listed with a sale price of $1,950,000.) So that’s half of the trade that the court halted.

As for the Little Cochetopa, the Chaffee County Commissioners received a letter dated Oct. 31, 2001, from John Brejcha, then acting director of the State Land Board.

“I want to make sure you understand my position regarding the future disposal of the little Cochetopa School Board Section…. it will be my recommendation to the State Board of Land Commissioners that we move forward with the disposal of that parcel,” Brejcha wrote.

And who would be the likely buyer? The Smiths just got a check for $2 million, and we know they’ve been interested in acquiring the Little Cochetopa, which they now lease for grazing. State law gives the lessee preference when the land is sold, which means the Smiths would be first in line.

Federal law — indeed, the federal “enabling act” which made Colorado a state in 1876 — requires that school lands like the Little Cochetopa “shall be disposed of only at public sale.”