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2:15 AM Wed, Feb. 20th

Mardian land swap with BLM not ruled out

KINGMAN - A land trade deal between the Bureau of Land Management and Mardian Ranch development is on hold for the foreseeable future.

The plan was for the developer, Leonard Mardian, to exchange 23,000 acres of private land for 16,400 acres of BLM land.

Mardian owns around 700,000 acres of land in the White Hills area. His land is interspersed with BLM in what is known as a checkerboard pattern, where every square mile of private land is followed by a square mile of public land.

The checkerboard pattern has created something of a problem for companies building modern day subdivisions and master-planned communities. The pattern makes it difficult to plan roads, utility lines and create a cohesive community with every other square mile being open space. Developers have to apply for right-of-way permits each time they want to build a road or run a utility across public lands.

While it's not difficult to apply for and build access roads across public lands, it can be time-consuming with a project as big as Mardian Ranch, said Mardian Project Manager Elno Roundy.

"It's really not that much of a problem. We can work around it. It stretches the development out a bit, but at the same time, it provides nice open spaces for residents," he said.

Roundy said the company had been working with BLM on several different options on the land trade for several years. Then in February 2006, BLM changed its mind and said it wanted to wait before it traded any more land, he said.

The reason the BLM changed its mind about the land trade was due to fluctuations in the price of land in the past year, said Don McClure from the BLM. The volatility of the land market sometimes makes it hard for the BLM to explain a land trade to the public, he said.

The value of a piece of land is often based on what a property owner can do with it. A flatter piece of land on which several homes could be built is usually worth more dollar-wise than a parcel that is very rocky and mountainous. However, the mountainous parcel may have more ecological value than the flatter piece of land.

McClure said the door on a land trade with the Mardian developers was not closed, and a trade could take place in the future if the market becomes more stable.

Roundy said the government first created the checkerboard pattern in the early 1900s. Each area was surveyed into townships and ranges. Each township and range was further surveyed into blocks of 36 square miles.

The idea was to encourage people to move west and settle in the area.

When railroads like Santa Fe started to become a popular mode of travel, the government used land grants to encourage the railroads to build lines out West. The government would sell every other block of land in a 40-mile area surrounding a proposed rail corridor. The railroads would sell or lease the land to private individuals in order to help pay for the construction of the rail line.

There are very large tracts of land in Arizona, New Mexico and other Western states that have this checkerboard pattern.

In the 1950s and '60s, railroads started requiring ranchers and other people who were leasing the land from them to purchase the property. The Mardian Ranch development was once a cattle ranch and encompassed both public and private lands.