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Skepticism nags Dog deal

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Two weeks ago Gov. Brian Schweitzer described the state's proposed $16.6 million Spotted Dog land deal as an "extraordinary opportunity." He practically gushed over the idea of bringing more than 27,000 acres east of Deer Lodge into the public fold using Atlantic-Richfield restoration funds and gave no hint of skepticism about the reality of the purchase from the Rock Creek Cattle Company.

But Schweitzer backpedaled on that earlier enthusiasm last Wednesday, publicly stating there's a greater than 50 percent chance the acquisition will fall through. The sudden recognition of low odds seemed to represent a change in attitude by the governor.

Sarah Elliott, Schweitzer's communications director, claims that's not the case at all. "The state still wants it," she says of the Spotted Dog complex. The governor was simply acknowledging that the property could be purchased for development by someone in the private sector before Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has a chance to finalize the funding source for its offer.

"It usually takes the state a while to do these things," Elliott says.

Meanwhile, FWP Regional Supervisor Mack Long says public comments on the purchase keep rolling in as the August 9 deadline approaches. The feedback has ranged, he says, from extreme support to serious skepticism.

"At the public meeting we had [on July 13], there were some questions about the [$9 million] option on the table versus the [$15.2 million] appraised value, the difference in price there."

The potential for the deal to fall through does exist, Long says. And for all he knows, Schweitzer's sudden mood change could be due to personal knowledge regarding other interested buyers that FWP doesn't yet have. But the agency's interest in the property hasn't waned.

"Nothing's changed," Long says. "It's just a reality we have to live with. We could go all the way through it and be ready to walk up and finalize things, and they could turn around and say, 'Sorry, it just sold.' It's just like buying a house."

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