Museum clarifies its mineral policy

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The Museum of Northwest Colorado has made $24,000 from its mineral leases this year.

But the museum's program has raised concerns with at least one Moffat County resident that government has no business acquiring property.

Dan Davidson, the museum's director, presented a mineral program policy to the Moffat County commissioners Tuesday. The policy stipulates that the museum will acquire only mineral interests through donations or purchases with money generated by the program.

Davidson specified in the policy that the county's general fund would not be used to purchase minerals or maintain the program.

That's a policy county resident Wes McStay said the county couldn't abide by.

"How can you say the general fund is not used when the general fund pays your salary?" McStay asked Davidson, who negotiates many of the county and museum's mineral leases.

McStay has maintained that it is not the government's role to acquire property. After Davidson's presentation, he said he thought the county should sell its mineral leases and place the proceeds in a trust fund.

Davidson said that his salary and time spent working on the mineral interests could be an issue. But he said people could donate property to the museum if they desired.

"A private property owner still has the right to do what they want with their private property," Davidson said.

The museum has acquired 323 mineral acres this year and is in the process of acquiring 104 more. In all, the museum owns about 10,000 mineral acres.

Commissioner Les Hampton questioned the general fund policy, but for different reasons than McStay. If the museum is attempting to purchase mineral interests and it is even $1 short, the museum would violate its policy by borrowing that dollar from the general fund, Hampton said.

Davidson said he would have the county attorney examine the policy.

The museum created the mineral program as a way to generate long- term revenue, Davidson said. Mary Jean Cornwall, the daughter of the first woman born in Craig, made the first mineral interest donation in 1998 after she was contacted for historical research. She gave the museum her mineral acreage in Rio Blanco County.

Like the museum, the Moffat County Library and The Memorial Hospital own mineral interests that were donated by their supporters.

The library, Davidson said, owns a 160-acre mineral interest in the south part of the county and a second, smaller interest nearer to Craig. Both interests were donated to the library, and neither have been leased.

If the library were to begin soliciting mineral interests, the commissioners would ask the Moffat County Library Board of Trustees to follow the same policy the museum adopts, Commissioner Darryl Steele said.

The policy stipulates that the museum will not solicit mineral interests when the interests have liens placed on them by Moffat County residents or surface owners. This is to avoid competition with private enterprise, Davidson said.

But the museum has sent one wave of solicitations by mail to all owners with severed mineral rightsin the county.

The museum also sends solicitation letters to delinquent taxpayers who own mineral interest. That amounts to about 100 letters a year, Davidson said.

TMH does not have a mineral policy, said Randy Phelps, TMH administrator.

"We're always delighted if someone leaves a gift like that," Phelps said.

He wasn't sure whether the hospital had made any money from its leases, and the hospital's financial officer could not be reached for comment.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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