WASHINGTON — Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, wants federal appraisers to stick to figuring how much land might sell for on the open market — and let other negotiators dicker on the value of intangibles such as protecting scenic vistas or wildlife.

Officials said Wednesday a newly revised appraisal system will do that for deals ordered by Congress — which Cannon says is key to trading islands of Utah land buried in wilderness-like federal areas for tracts that can produce money for schools.

But he wants proof the new system will work that way before pushing big trades.

So he told the House Resources Committee — which was holding a hearing on recent reorganization of appraisers — "We'll come forward with a school trust lands bill soon so that we can test the system and make sure it works." He said it will likely be for a small trade in order to test processes for bigger ones.

The last time Cannon pushed a big land trade — in the San Rafael Swell — it blew apart when federal appraisers said it would give Utah an unfair $100 million windfall. They said officials seeking the deal intentionally put too low a value on minerals on lands involved and pressured appraisers to support incorrect data.

That led to several investigations, demotions of some people and firing of others. The Interior Department even reorganized to take appraisers out of each of its land management agencies and consolidate them into a new office. That way, appraisers now answer only to other appraisers — not to the land managers negotiating deals.

Cannon still angrily contends that appraisers were wrong about the fairness of the now-dead San Rafael deal (although outside investigations backed the appraisers). But he said resulting reorganization should make future deals more likely.

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