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Voters approve proposition to allow trust land exchanges to preserve bases

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PHOENIX – Voters on Tuesday approved a ballot measure to allow swapping state trust land for federal land to preserve military bases.

Unofficial returns showed Proposition 119 leading by a wide margin.

The state Constitution requires that millions of acres of trust land managed by the state be leased or sold to benefit education and other causes. That prevents the federal government from trading land elsewhere for state lands that guard against encroachment around bases.

A broad coalition of state leaders, conservation groups, military leaders and ranchers helped develop Proposition 119. Supporters said the change would help preserve Fort Huachuca, where the Army tests sensitive electronics, and auxiliary airfields used by Luke Air Force Base.

Arizona State Land Commissioner Maria Baier said passage of Proposition 119 will help the state’s economy, its military industry and its land-conservation efforts.

“This is one of the biggest things that has happened in Arizona land management in a very long time,” Baier said. “It’s a triple win.”

Mignonne Hollis, executive director of the Sierra Vista Economic Development Foundation, said the measure guarantees more than the security of the area’s military base, Fort Huachuca.

“This prop ensures that we can continue our relationship with Fort Huachuca, which is very important from an economic standpoint,” Hollis said. “I’m really happy it passed.”

After voters narrowly rejected a similar ballot measure in 2010, Sen. John Nelson, R-Litchfield Park, authored legislation that the Legislature referred to the ballot earlier this year.

Under the measure, requirements for any exchange of state trust land for federal land included two independent appraisals to ensure the parcels are of equal value, two analyses on the economic impact, at least two public hearings and a statewide vote.

The Arizona State Land Department manages about 9.2 million acres of trust land the federal government granted Arizona upon statehood in 1912.

A group called Yes on Prop 119 had raised $47,087 through Oct. 25, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. The largest amount – $20,000 – came from the Sonoran Institute, an advocacy group focusing on conservation issues in the West.

There was no organized opposition to the measure.