Western Lands Project Seattle, Washington
Spring 2008 Research, Outreach, and Advocacy to Keep Public Lands Public Vol. 12, No. 1
epresentative Rick Renzi, (R-AZ) has brought media attention to Congressional land tradesin the last several monthsexposing his ownshady approach to our public lands and at least temporarily undermining a major land swapproposal in his state.Renzi represents the vast 1st District o Arizona andwas until last year a member o the House NaturalResources Committee, which oversees public lands.In a 35-count indictment handed down in February,ederal prosecutors allege Renzi promised support or land deals in exchange or a avor to his businesspartner. He and partner James Sandlin had ownedproperty together and Sandlin was buying out Renzi’sshare. To help his riend and himsel, Renzi tried tocompel two dierent groups planning land swaps tomake Sandlin’s property part o their trade proposals.One was Resolution Copper, which has been attempt-ing to get a land exchange bill through Congresssince 2005. The company wants to exploit what isbelieved to be “one o the largest deposits o copperore ever discovered in North America,” but it liesbeneath Oak Flats, Tonto National Forest land spe-cially protected by a 50-year-old Executive Order. Res-olution has bought several pieces o private land totrade to the public in exchange or Oak Flats. Renziapparently told the mining company that he wouldnot push its land swap unless the company purchasedSandlin’s property or $4 million. The company’sexecutives, eventually aware o the Renzi-Sandlin rela-tionship, did not comply because they elt “uncom-ortable.”
Arizona congressman indicted in connection with land deals
Renzi then oered support, with the same condition,or another land trade proposal. Preserve PetrifedForest Land Investors LLC, which includes ormerInterior Secretary and Arizona Governor Bruce Bab-bitt, was putting together a land trade that wouldbring 15,000 acres it had optioned within the Petri-fed Forest National Park into public ownership.(Some readers may recall that Babbitt greatly honedhis land-dealing skills when he was running Interior).The group had already identifed the public landit wanted to acquire. Renzi told them he’d support legislation or the deal, but only i they bought theSandlin property and added it to what they would betrading to the public. While apparently suspiciouswhen Renzi demanded outright purchase rather thanoptioning, the group purchased the Sandlin tract or$4.6 million. More than $700,000 o that allegedly went to Renzi, laundered through a amily business.Renzi came under grand jury investigation in early 2007 and at that time resigned rom his NaturalResources Committee post. He was indicted twomonths ago, reused to resign, but has said he will not run again.Meanwhile, the Resolution Copper deal, already con-troversial (and an awul proposal) has taken on someo the taint o Renzi’s maneuverings and has stalledin the current Congress. And the Petrifed investorgang now holds a 480-acre alala feld that used tobelong to Sandlin and Renzi. Few bad land deals everreally go away, so it is probable that the Resolutionland swap will be resuscitated. Nor would it be all that surprising i someone in Congress decided to intro-duce legislation that would bring that alala feld intopublic ownership and make Bruce Babbitt “whole.”You just never know.