Montana Land Board endorses swap

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HELENA, Mont. – The Montana State Land Board endorsed early plans for a land swap with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and rejected a right of way for a rail spur running from a proposed Wyoming coal mine.

The land swap – approved on a unanimous voice vote – calls for the state to give up almost three square miles of land in western Montana near Niarada. In exchange, the Salish and Kootenai would transfer to the state almost nine square miles of tribal land in the same area.

The tribe said it wants to consolidate its holdings, while the state said it wanted to trade land it owns within the reservation boundary for land outside the reservation.

“The exchange will benefit both parties,” Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Councilmen Steve Lozar told the land board.

The state said many steps remain, and that full appraisals are still in the works. Early estimates peg the total value of the state and tribal land at about $4 million in each case.

“This just begins the process between the tribe and the department to move forward on this particular exchange,” said Joe Lamson, with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

The land board also rejected a right of way application from a proposed Wyoming border coal mine seeking to build a rail spur into Montana. The rail line would connect the Youngs Creek coal operation to the existing Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railway Decker spur line.

Land board members worried the Wyoming coal mine could compete with Otter Creek coal that the state plans to develop. Gov. Brian Schweitzer said the issue would be revisited at a September meeting focused on developing the state-owned coal.

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