Town of Lovell mulls land swap with National Guard

After years of discussion and more recent intensive negotiation, the Lovell Town Council is nearing a decision on a proposed land swap with the Wyoming National Guard to build a new facility in or near the community.

Following a lengthy discussion during a special council meeting on Tuesday, July 24, the council voted to table the land swap issue until more information can be gathered, although the Guard is pressing for a decision soon.

Town manager Jed Nebel said in an interview Tuesday that the town was approached years ago by the Wyoming Army National Guard about the future of the Guard in Lovell with the Guard seeking a parcel or adjacent parcels of land totaling anywhere from 15 to 40 acres.

The National Guard once ran both an armory and a field maintenance shop out of the Guard facilities in Lovell but made the decision to essentially close the armory and no longer hold drill in Lovell, though keeping the maintenance shop open.

Nebel said the Guard asked the town to seek a parcel of land suitable for a new facility – at least a field maintenance shop – that the town would buy and then trade to the Guard for the facilities on East Fifth in Lovell. The State has been interested in certain parcels of land in the Lovell area, he said.

Originally, the Guard was seeking a straight land swap (following land purchase by the town) but lately has been asking the town to also pay the difference between the land and the appraised value of the building, Nebel said.

For instance, if the town could purchase the land for $200,000 and the buildings’ estimated worth is $600,000, the town would not only have to pay for the land, it would have to pay the Guard for the buildings in the “swap.” Plus, Nebel said, the town would bear the cost of renovating and retrofitting the buildings into a facility the town could use.

The negotiations between the Town and Guard have intensified in recent years, since early 2016, and the Guard had asked for a decision by July 24, the night of the recent special meeting.

The Guard gave the town a list of six land parcels the Guard favored, Nebel said, and the list was narrowed to three, then two. The Guard would like 40 acres to work with, he added, and is also concerned about the distance to utility lines.

During discussion on July 24, the it was clear that the town council preferred, and believed the town could afford, the simple purchase and swap, but the council had reservations about the latest Guard proposal to include the buildings in the proposal, especially since the town would then have to expend more money, at least a match on a grant, to renovate the facilities.

“We’d be looking at a million-dollar building,” Nebel said, adding that it would be nice for the town to have all of its departments and facilities in one location.

Even amid concerns, the council expressed strong support for maintaining a robust National Guard presence in the community, with Nebel noting that, with a larger parcel of land to work with, there is even the possibility of a full armory or “readiness center” returning to Lovell, though that’s not part of the discussion at hand.

“We don’t want to lose the Guard from Lovell,” councilman Kevin Jones said. “What’s it worth to us?”

Added Nebel later, “We don’t want this to be another Forest Service building, college or prison missed opportunity.”

No matter what happens, it would be years before the town could move into any new facilities, a best case scenario of five to six years, Nebel said.

During discussion, the council wondered if the Guard would consider the town buying the land and selling it to the Guard, and Nebel said he would check.

“Find out if the building has to be part of the deal,” Jones said. “Do we have to take the building?”

The council tabled the item until more questions can be answered.

Police vehicle bid

In other action on July 24, the council voted to accept a bid from Rocky Mountain Yeti of Afton of $37,360.02 for two Dodge Ram pickups for the police department with locking covers for the pickup bed. In considering bids at an earlier special meeting on July 20, the council tabled the agenda item to check whether a lower bid the town received included the locking covers. It did not. The bid includes the value of current fleet vehicles to be traded in as part of the deal.

The vehicles are expected to arrive in about 12 weeks.

The council also voted July 24 to accept a bid of $531,873.62 from Motorola Solutions for the town’s dispatch center upgrade at the Annex. The town had tabled that agenda item, too, at the July 20 meeting while awaiting answers to some questions.

“The bid contained everything we needed,” Nebel told the council.

It was noted that it could take 16 weeks or more for the equipment to arrive and be installed, and the council thanked Big Horn County for allocating E911 funds to the project.

In other action at the July 20 meeting, the council voted to approve an invoice from DOWL Engineering for $803.82. The invoice was for work on the Shoshone Hill project and had been overlooked earlier, clerk/treasurer Valerie Beal said.

The council also voted to approve a letter of relinquishment for $266,871.19 in unused loan funds from the State Loan and Investment Board on the water tower project. The town will also pay $25,128.69 in accrued interest on the loan as part of the process whereby the state will forgive 50 percent of the loan, applied to the principal balance.

By David Peck