County bought Doyle gravel pit between commissioner meetings

Annotated screenshot of July 19 meeting agenda.

Citizens question 'underhanded' deal at July 19 meeting

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Despite some assurances that county commissioners did their due diligence before paying $1 million for a 25.4-acre future gravel pit, citizens blasted the purchase at the board’s July 19 meeting – before learning it was a done deal.

At the Sublette County Board of Commissioners’ previous meeting on Tuesday, July 6, the board voted, 3-2, with chair Joel Bousman, Sam White and Tom Noble approving an offer and purchase contract to the Doyle family owners. The purchase would add it as a second smaller county gravel pit to one already permitted but not mined.

Commissioners Doug Vickrey and Dave Stephens voted against the motion to send Sublette County Deputy Attorney Clayton Melinkovich to the Doyle family with its $1-million offer and contract. The contract was signed and Doyles’ warranty deed signed over to the county on July 15. All commissioners had left to do on July 19 was announce the purchase’s completion.

Bousman added a public comment period for citizens to voice their strong concerns and reactions

over the county’s lack of clarity about buying the second piece. About 25 people attended Tuesday’s meeting in person and others watched via Zoom.

Most if not all thought they could influence the purchase before commissioners spent $1 million of taxpayers’ money. The July 19 agenda only stated “Letter Regarding Property Purchase.”

Chair Bousman acknowledged the crowd and tried to set up a microphone for Road & Bridge supervisor Billy Pape “to include discussion of the purchase of property.” 

Property purchase

“It’s ready to be recorded,” said Sublette County Clerk Carrie Long of the “purchase contract signed by trustees on July 15.”

Bousman said, “I’m assuming (people are) here for this issue; we need to let them speak now.”

He explained that a dozen years ago, the county bought 40 acres of Doyle agriculture-zoned property at the visible intersection of Highway 191 and Pole Creek Road and kept the DEQ-permitted gravel pit in reserve.

One gravel pit near the Pinedale Town Shop will be closed because it is close enough to town utilities to build a county facility if needed, Bousman said.

Buying the second, smaller, adjacent Doyle ag-zoned parcel on Pole Creek Road would “give us a longer slice of gravel on the hill next to the one we already have. We wouldn’t use both at once,” he said.

Bob Harrower addressed the board, asking why the county would want to put an industrial use on “a prime piece of property when so much land is available for gravel pits?”

Nearby resident and former quarry manager Gary Daane asked how commissioners chose the million-dollar price tag for the new parcel “before you spend taxpayers’ money, and you have 40 acres there haven’t even touched? You have 50 to 60 years right there.”

“To keep (Sublette County) roads in good shape takes a lot of gravel,” Pape said. Buying gravel for one project would have cost $4 million more than the county mining its own, he said.

Pape and his family own property nearby and he wouldn’t want to “mess up” anyone’s property values, which this won’t, he said. “You won’t see it from the road.” 

Numbers

Noble said he “had the numbers” from “past posted contracts” to show the Doyle parcel’s real estate value. “The values are there.”

The board earlier said it relied on “comps” or comparative real estate sales when the majority decided to proceed to buy the property without an appraisal.

Commissioner Stephens said he “would like to see exactly how it was valued.”

“Based on the number of yards available and costs for the county,” Bousman said.

Of the price, Noble added, “Numbers early on that valued it at $1.2 million.”

Vickrey questioned paying $40,000 an acre – “We did not have an appraisal.”

Vickrey also said Pape brought news of the Doyles’ asking price of $1.25 million to commissioners in June. Commissioners rejected the offer and one said, “No, will he take a million?”

The Doyles would accept $1 million if the county paid for an appraisal, closing costs and a survey, Vickrey said. That was rejected and at the commissioners’ July 5 meeting, Melinkovich was directed to submit a straight $1-million offer.

The purchase contract was accepted and signed July 15, before the July 19 meeting that citizens attended. The Doyles signed the warranty deed over to the county and it was transferred later on July 19 around 3 p.m.

“The purchase agreement and deed were both signed but it was not recorded until we printed the check to pay for the land,” Long explained Thursday. “That is the normal procedure for recording documents.”  

No idea

Linda Romasko, representing all Old Brazzill Ranch homeowners, spoke against installing a gravel pit within clear view of three developed subdivisions.

Landowner Wade Tibbets said his family lives closest to the just-purchased Doyle property – his kids use the property corner post when they play. He said he wanted “transparency.”

“Was this an underground purchase?” he said, asking about water rights, flooding and draining.

Haney asked Pape “how all this research was done” and if the county did any environmental impact analyses. He asked about a feasibility study, which Pape said was not needed.

Commissioner Stephens asked citizens present, “When you bought your property, how many of you knew that (40-acre) property that existed there might be a gravel pit?”

On Sublette County’s GIS MapServer, the county’s first Doyle acquisition is only listed as “agricultural” with an appraised value of $17,296 – nothing indicates it is a DEQ-permitted gravel pit.

Old Brazzill Ranch owner Dean Boundy said he and his wife bought the “pristine” cattle ranch with ponds, irrigation and wildlife including protected trumpeter swans. He asked if commissioners would consider a feasibility study “before you write the check.”

Bousman asked Pape to respond. Pape said gravel mining could start “today” on the 40 acres and neither it nor the smaller adjacent piece need to be rezoned. He already talked to the DEQ, Pape said, and nothing more is needed because it will be adjoined to the currently permitted parcel. 

Opportunity arose

The county wasn’t “actively seeking” the opportunity to buy when it came up,” Bousman said.

However, Pape said he was aware of the potential sale as early as February when the Upper Green Cemetery Board “asked about that property.”

Back when the county bought the first 40 acres, Pape said, Doyles planned to keep the rest in the family. After contact with Rob Doyle “back in February, we’ve been talking ever since. It’s all going to be listed, it’s all going to be sold anyway.”

Bousman demurred that he thought the potential purchase was on past commission agendas and minutes.

On the June 7 agenda, “purchase of real estate” was discussed in executive session. Minutes stated that no actions were taken. Executive session are closed to the public and minutes are not published.

On June 21, the board met again in executive session for “purchase of real estate.” Minutes noted: “The Board reconvened open session. Commissioner Noble made a motion to proceed with plans to purchase the property adjoining the county owned property on Pole Creek for $1,000,000. Commissioner White seconded the motion. Motion carried 3 to 2 with Commissioners Vickrey and Stephens voting nay.”

On July 5, Pape’s report lists “property purchase discussion.”

At no point in the meeting agendas or minutes are any more specific details provided.

Not required

As Tuesday’s comments wound down, Long said to Bousman, “You already approved your purchase contract that you have signed and that Doyles have signed.”

“So basically the purchase is complete,” Bousman said. “Do we develop it or not...”

“You signed the warranty deed?,” Harrower asked.

“It was on the agenda, letter regarding property purchase...,” Bousman said

“I’ll just look for the black smoke,” Harrower said as he walked out.

Citizens reacted with shock – “Why are we just now hearing about this? … Underhanded … How can none of us who live right next door not know this?”

Not one county official present had yet explained to them – a gravel pit is an accepted allowed use of agricultural property – meaning legally the county did not have to inform the homeowners in advance.

Earlier, Long and county planner Dennis Fornstrom confirmed that the board was not required to give notice of gravel pits.

“I brought it up that there should be public input,” Stephens said to the disbelieving public. “I did mention it.”

Vickrey said he voted against it but “respects the majority vote.”

His advice to homeowners – “sell your property today” for more than they’d get for “gravel pit prices.”

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