CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The National Park Service on Friday completed the second phase of its purchase of what is supposed to eventually total just over two square miles of state land inside Grand Teton National Park.
Recent federal budget uncertainty — the so-called "fiscal cliff" of steep spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect at the beginning of the year — coincided with questions about whether the purchase of 86 acres of state land in the park would go ahead as planned.
For months, Interior Department and Wyoming officials expressed uncertainty that the federal government would make money available for the latest installment on the land deal, which by the time all four phases are completed in 2015 will total $107 million.
Then on Friday, the Park Service announced that Interior had bought the 86 acres for $16 million as planned. The second-phase purchase had been scheduled to close no later than Jan. 5.
"This second purchase makes a significant step toward ensuring that state-owned lands within the park's boundary become entirely part of Grand Teton National Park," Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in a release.
Like most Western states, Wyoming uses its state land to generate revenue for public education, primarily through mining, logging, farming or grazing leases. The Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments has brought in a relatively small amount, about $1,600 a year, by leasing its Grand Teton land for cattle grazing.
Even conservatively investing the proceeds from selling the 1,366 acres of state school trust lands inside the park would bring in far more revenue, state officials have said.
Proceeds from the latest phase of the sale will go into the Wyoming Permanent Land Fund, which can be used to buy other land for the state, state officials said Friday.
"The best outcome for all involved is for this land to be part of the national park," Gov. Matt Mead said in a statement.
The state land is in the southern half of Grand Teton. Most of it is in two parcels measuring a square mile each. The parcel sold Friday is located on the Snake River near the park's southern boundary.
Wyoming has owned the land since statehood in 1890. Nearly all private inholdings in Grand Teton have been sold to the Park Service in the decades since Grand Teton was established in its current boundaries in 1950 but no deal was made for the Park Service to acquire the state land.
In 2010, Gov. Dave Freudenthal and other state officials threatened to auction off the land on the open market if Interior didn't make a serious attempt at a deal to buy or trade other federal lands or mineral rights for the Grand Teton land.
State and federal officials announced the four-phase land purchase later that year. The final two installments will be the 2014 and 2015 purchases of the square-mile sections for $45 and $46 million.
The National Parks Conservation Association praised the sale moving ahead.
"It's been down to the wire in terms of securing these funds," said Sharon Mader, the group's Grand Teton program manager.
The bulk of the $16 million, she said, came from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fund is supported by companies that drill for offshore oil and gas.
"We will certainly keep pushing and are very, very happy that this first, integral piece has been completed," Mader said.