Jefferson County and three state agencies recently signed an agreement a county commissioner described as a “positive and necessary step” for the potential handoff to the county of part of the former Montana Developmental Center campus.
The memorandum of understanding — among the County, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Department of Public Health and Human Services and the Department of Corrections — paves the way for a potential land exchange required to remove roughly 32 acres of state trust lands from the campus before the state can consider ceding ownership of any part of the campus to the county.
The County Commission approved the agreement the day before Christmas. It gives no timeline for the land transfer process, which includes public hearings and approval by the State Board of Land Commissioners. The transfer of state trust lands is a separate but necessary step for the hoped-for handoff of the former campus to the County, which hopes to develop it economically.
County Commissioner Leonard Wortman told The Monitor that state officials estimated the transfer process might last until November due to what he characterized as a “cumbersome and time-consuming process.”
According to the agreement, “the State Trust Lands within the boundaries of the Montana Development Center would be exchanged for replacement lands of equal to or greater than acreage and value, upon approval by the State Board of Land Commissioners.”
The DOC is party to the agreement because it manages roughly 300 acres of nearby grazing lands that are being considered for the exchange. The DNRC is party to the agreement because it is the state agency tasked with overseeing state trust lands, while the DPHHS is the agency with oversight of the former MDC campus.
According to the terms of the agreement, the DNRC is responsible for, among other items, appraising both the state trust lands contained within the former campus and the DOC-managed agricultural lands, and for surveying the latter. The DNRC is also responsible for noticing and conducting the public hearings required of proposed transfers of state trust lands.
For its part of the agreement, the County will pay up to $30,000 to cover the cost of the land appraisals and survey, plus 11.73% of any indirect costs incurred by the DNRC in the process.
The DOC’s involvement is primarily “to support the land exchange and agrees to transfer management and control of selected replacement lands to DPHHS through Executive Order.” The agreement also indicates that the DOC will maintain its current agricultural/grazing lease with a local rancher through Dec. 31, 2024, and that, if the land transfer happens, it would pay the DNRC an annual, prorated amount of those lease payments until the lease expires.
Finally, the agreement indicates that the DPHHS will “be responsible for all costs associated with the land exchange,” including “any additional appraisals or survey cost exceeding” Jefferson County’s contribution. Further, the DPHHS will be responsible for the costs associated with the process of transferring campus lands to the County.
Wortman said that entering into an agreement guarantees nothing but is a “positive and necessary step” toward the County’s goal of acquiring the facility for economic development.