Corona Arch, which is now on state trust land, will soon be managed by the Bureau of Land Management after a land exchange between the state and federal entities. [Andrew Mirrington / Moab Sun News]

Public land within Grand County will be exchanging hands in the near future.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) will be exchanging parcels in Grand, San Juan and Uintah counties.

An environmental assessment has recently been completed. A public comment period regarding the assessment is open until May 17.

“We hope to complete the exchange by the end of the year,” said Joy Wehking, Realty Specialist in the Utah BLM Office.

The exchange involves approximately 46,000 acres of state lands and 36,000 acres of BLM-managed lands. In the exchange, the most of the land to be acquired by BLM is in Grand County, for a total of 36,447 acres. The gain of SITLA land in Grand County will only be 7,706.

Some Grand County recreational landmarks are being considered in the exchange, including Corona Arch, portions of Negro Bill Canyon and sections of the Colorado River corridor that are now managed by SITLA.

Under the Utah Enabling Act, approved in 1894, additional land was set aside to the state for school trust lands.

“When Utah became a state, it was granted four sections out of every township plat, and gave the remaining land to the federal government,” Wehking said.

A township plat, which is surveying measurement tool, has 36 one-square-mile units per plat. That created a checkerboard-like pattern of scattered state land parcels surrounded by federal land throughout the state.

“The exchange would allow for consolidation of federal of state lands,” Wehking said.

“It would allow for more efficient management.”

The BLM would be acquiring land that is now within wilderness study areas, or are included in the resource management plan.

“In Grand County we’re acquiring properties we’ve set aside through a land use management plan for protection and recreation,” Wehking said.

The state would be acquiring lands that have high potential for resource or energy development, or can be sold.

“It is getting lands that are more recreational and need to be conserved into the right hands,” said Bryan Torgerson, a SITLA resource specialist based in Grand County. “SITLA will be acquiring lands that meet our fiduciary responsibilities, that allows us to make money for Utah school children.”

Money generated from trust land development and trust land sales is transferred to the Permanent State School Fund, which creates and endowment. The interest and dividends from the Permanent Fund is distributed to schools to each year. In 2012, over $29 million was distributed to Utah schools.

Torgerson said that SITLA doesn’t typically sell a lot of property.

“We are prohibited by law to sell our mineral estates,” Torgerson said. “We will lease it to an exploration company.”

However, in Grand County, where there is less land deemed appropriate for resource or energy development than Uintah County, property may be sold to private buyers, including parcels in Spanish Valley, Torgerson said.

The exchange has been a long process.

The Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009, passed on Aug. 19, 2009, directed the exchange of lands between the Secretary of the Interior and the State of Utah, School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

One of the major issues in the exchange is to have an equal value exchange.

“There will be some adjustments based on how those properties are valued,” Wehking said. “Some properties will be eliminated to bring those appraised values into line.”

That has caused some delays.

“There is a mineral component to it. Both agencies had to create mineral development potential reports,” Wehking said. Then we turn it over to an appraisal entity with experience in mineral to further assess and value. Then that information is turned over to an appraiser to fold it into how mineral development plays into the development of the properties.”

Seventy-nine percent of the state land to be exchanged to BLM is based in Grand County, at approximately 36,000 acres. However, Grand County will acquire on 7,706 acres of state land in the exchange.

The majority of the state lands acquired in the exchange will be in Uintah County.

Grand County would not be financially stricken because of the exchange, Torgerson said, as a portion of royalties will go directly to schools within the county.

“A large portion of that will flow back into Grand County,” Torgerson said.

Grand County School District schools received at total of $133,623 for the elementary, middle and high schools during the 2012-13 school year, said Robert Farnsworth, the district’s business manager. The Moab Charter School received $3568, said Lincoln Fillmore, the school’s business manager.

The BLM is already preparing to manage additional recreational lands.

Due to a fatal rope swing accident March 24 at Corona Arch, the BLM is “taking a closer look at appropriate ways to balance and manage these activities on public lands,” BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall.

The Utah Trust Lands Administration tried to curb Corona Arch’s growing appeal by banning commercial jumping effective Jan. 1. But the agency said it couldn’t prevent private parties from using its lands. The agency posted a trailhead warning about the potential for “severe injury or death even if your equipment works.”