Montana officials are questioning whether a unilaterally approved six million dollar land deal by Governor Steve Bullock was legal.

The Montana State Land Board is composed of five members, all of which are state-wide elected officials. Right now, the board consists of Governor Steve Bullock a Democrat, and four Republicans, and the five don’t always see eye-to-eye. This summer, though, after the state land board voted to wait on making a decision concerning a recreation easement in Eastern Montana, Governor Bullock went ahead and approved the easement anyway, raising questions about who has legal authority over easements. It's an act that Montana State Senate President Scott Sales believes may have not only broken precedent, but the law as well.

"Just last week [Wednesday, August 1], I asked the Attorney General for his opinion on whether the Governor overstepped his authority by, basically, doing an end-run around the land board on this decision to spend 6.1 million dollars, if I remember correctly, for a hunting easement on a 15,000 acre ranch out in the eastern part of the state," Sales said.

Sales has other questions about the Horse Creek Conservation Easement. He’s concerned about the price tag, which, at over six million dollars is well over the $100,000 benchmark that has triggered State Land Board review in the past.

"This one, bothered me a little bit even more so, because of the high dollar value that we placed on that property from an easement standpoint," Sales said. "It's my understanding that the ranch was sold about five years ago to these individuals for about $4 million and now, just five years later, they're getting about 50 percent more than they paid for the property, just for an easement."

One of the land board members, Elsie Arntzen chastised the governor for acting unilaterally, saying that “any state dollars that enrich a private entity need to have oversight.” Arntzen also accused state agencies of stemming the flow of information. She says the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission, a group appointed by the Governor, didn’t bring information about the easement to the land board until four days after voting had occurred.

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