Man says he’ll auction N.D. ranch mineral rightsA Montana man who has threatened to mine gravel on a historic Badlands ranch says he plans to auction off the mineral rights next year and if he doesn’t get a high enough bid, he will just dig up the minerals himself.
By: By James MacPherson, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — A Montana man who has threatened to mine gravel on a historic Badlands ranch says he plans to auction off the mineral rights next year and if he doesn’t get a high enough bid, he will just dig up the minerals himself.
Roger Lothspeich of Miles City, Mont., has been in a dispute with the U.S. Forest Service over claims that he owns most of the mineral and gravel rights beneath the 5,200-acre ranch in western North Dakota where Theodore Roosevelt once ran cattle. Lothspeich said the subsurface rights represent about $10 million in high-grade gravel that can be sold for road building.
Lothspeich said he recently sold his share of the mineral rights to his girlfriend, Peggy Braunberger, for “tax purposes” but he would not discuss the selling price or other details of the sale. He said his plan is to buy the mineral rights from Braunberger early next year, and auction them next February in Bismarck.
“I want to give everybody a chance to own this,” said Lothspeich, who owns a motorcycle, snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle dealership in Montana. “If I don’t get what I want, I’ll just go mine it.”
A public telephone listing for Braunberger could not be found.
Last summer, Lothspeich threatened to mine gravel on the ranch but later said he would drop the plan if the Forest Service or conservation groups paid him $2.5 million. Neither the federal agency nor the conservation groups took up his offer. The Forest Service said it’s not sure Lothspeich actually owns the minerals and that his application to mine the gravel is not complete. He has accused the agency of stalling.
Forest Service district supervisor Ron Jablonski said Tuesday that the Forest Service is willing to work with Lothspeich if he can prove he owns the minerals.
“Threatening to dig is one thing. Showing us the ownership is something else,” Jablonski said. “He hasn’t proven to us he owns anything.”
Jablonski also said he would not speculate on whether the Forest Service would be interested in bidding on the mineral rights at an auction.
“That’s normally not the way the government acquires land,” he said.
The Forest Service bought the ranch from the Eberts family in 2007 for $5.3 million, but the purchase did not include subsurface rights. The ranch was renamed The Elkhorn Ranchlands, in a reference to Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn ranch nearby.
The Ebertses had bought the ranch and half the mineral rights from the Connell family in 1993 for $800,000. Lothspeich, who grew up near the ranch before moving to Montana, said he bought the other half of the mineral rights more than a year ago, knowing the government had not obtained them in the Eberts deal. A Forest Service supervisor has said the agency did not make a formal offer for the mineral rights.
Gravel was mined at the ranch from about 1917 through the 1980s, according to Byron Connell, of Scottsbluff, Neb. He said many of the roads in Billings County were built with gravel from the ranch.
Roosevelt, who was president from 1901 to 1909, set aside millions of acres for national forests and wildlife refuges during his administration. The Forest Service, Park Service and conservation groups call the area where the ranch is located “the cradle of conservation.”
Wayde Schafer, a North Dakota spokesman for the Sierra Club, said Lothspeich has approached his group about buying the subsurface rights to the ranch.
“The Sierra Club doesn’t buy land or interest in land,” Schafer said. “I hope something can be worked out so the people of North Dakota and the country can enjoy that ranch.”