Mat-Su land sale sours high bidder

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2001

WASILLA (AP) -- The losing bidder in a farm land sale at Point MacKenzie is accusing the state agriculture board of rigging a deal that gave the 625-acre dairy farm to the current renters, even though they offered nearly $100,000 less than the high bid.

State officials said the decision was proper and aimed at maintaining the local dairy industry.

The property was sold last month for $525,500 to Wayne and Veronica Brost although another couple -- Trena and Derek Morris -- submitted a bid of $625,000.

The Morrises have appealed that decision to the state Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the Division of Agriculture and the Board of Agriculture and Conservation.

The Morrises say the board and other state agricultural officials, including division director Rob Wells, set up a sale process that ensured the Brosts' success. They said the process gave far more weight to applicants' experience than the price, and so favored the Brosts.

The Brosts had been leasing the 625-acre farm from the state and operating it as a dairy for five years. The Morrises own a small beef-cattle operation and harvest hay in the area.

''They were going to give it to him (Wayne Brost) no matter what, and that's what they did,'' Trena Morris said in an interview. ''They turned down $100,000.''

Board members say they chose the Brosts because they are more likely to keep the dairy operating. In the long run, that's better for the state's economy, said board chairman Jim Drew, former head of the University of Alaska's Agriculture and Land Resources Management department.

Harvey Baskin, a longtime Point MacKenzie dairy farmer and the board member who cast the lone vote against the sale, said he wanted to sell the land to the highest bidder simply because people would question the decision otherwise.

Winning bidder Wayne Brost said farmers should get credit for dairy experience. He said the state should promote dairies.

''If someone could have come along and outpointed me (in the bid evaluation) I would have been gone next spring,'' he said.

Over the last four years, the agriculture division has sold a handful of farms covering thousands of acres at Point MacKenzie, director Wells said. All the property is restricted to agricultural use only.

Many of the properties date back to the Point MacKenzie Dairy Project, a land sale 20 years ago aimed at boosting in-state milk production. Most of those operations failed, leaving the state with millions in defaulted loans.

Most of the recent agricultural land has been sold to the highest bidder, Wells said. But he and other state officials decided the Brost property should be handled differently because it includes an operating dairy.

The state dairy industry has shrunk to fewer than two dozen farms, Wells said. If more dairies fail, he said, the state could lose its dairy industry.

The state is requiring the winning bidder to operate the property as a dairy farm for at least the next three years.

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