BISMARCK, N.D. — A Montana businessman said Friday that he's resuming plans to mine gravel near Theodore Roosevelt's historic North Dakota ranch, saying the federal government hasn't yet come up with other land for him to mine.
Roger Lothspeich and his fiancee, Peggy Braunberger, of Miles City, Mont., signed an agreement in July 2012 with the U.S. Forest Service to work out an exchange for other federal land or mineral rights at a different location. But Lothspeich told The Associated Press on Friday that no trade proposals have been made so he's dusted off his original plan.
"We got no choice but to move forward," Lothspeich said. "I can't believe it's taken more than a year to find a parcel with gravel on it in the million acres of federal land in North Dakota."
The proposal to mine 25 acres of land just a mile from Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch cabin is threatening what government agencies and conservation groups have hailed that land as the "cradle of conservation."
Forest Service district ranger Ron Jablonski said the agency still wants to trade Lothspeich land or mineral rights on federal land, but it's taking time to find something of equal value.
"We said when we signed the agreement, a swap often takes multiple years to do," Jablonski said. "Everyone has interest in moving this swap forward, but sometimes the government moves slowly. This is incredibly complicated."
Before he was president, Roosevelt spent more than three years in the North Dakota Badlands in the 1880s. He owned a cabin in western North Dakota and grazed cattle on nearby land.
As president from 1901 to 1909, Roosevelt set aside millions of acres for national forests and wildlife refuges.
Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch is protected land that's part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. At issue is land adjacent to Elkhorn Ranch.
The U.S. Forest Service bought the nearby 5,200-acre ranch in 2007 from brothers Kenneth, Allan and Dennis Eberts and their families. But it turned out the Eberts owned only half of the mineral rights; the other half was owned by another family and did not get sold to the government.
Lothspeich, who grew up near the land before moving to Montana, bought those rights knowing the government had not obtained them in the Eberts deal.
Lothspeich and Braunberger spent about four years proving they own the right to remove gravel and other surface minerals from the site. Lothspiech wants to take advantage of the growing demand for rock and gravel needed for road building and other projects in North Dakota's bomming oil patch.
"I want to be clear that we intend to work cooperatively with the feds, but they've done nothing," Lothspeich said. "Zero."
Jablonski said the Forest Service will resume consideration of Lothspeich's original permit application filed in 2011.
"A land or mineral swap is still the desired outcome and definitely a possibility, but it just doesn't happen overnight," Jablonski said.
Lothspeich had previously said he wanted the Forest Service or conservation groups to pay him $2.5 million for the mineral rights. Neither the federal agency nor the conservation groups took up his offer. He also has said his portion of the subsurface rights represents about $10 million in high-grade gravel.
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