Casper, Wyo. -- It appears the lame-duck session of Congress will not act on the Martin's Cove proposal, but work on a compromise version could begin next year.
Sponsored by U.S. Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, the Martin's Cove proposal would require the Bureau of Land Management to sell 940 acres of the historic property southwest of Casper to the Church of Latter-day Saints.
Martin's Cove is considered hallowed ground to the Mormons, who have sought to take title to the sheltered cove on the banks of the Sweetwater River. Mormon handcart pioneers died there from cold and hunger during a blizzard in 1856.
The church had purchased the nearby Sun Ranch and established a popular visitor center to interpret the cove and nearby Mormon Trail.
When the church attempted to purchase the cove, opponents came forward, citing concerns about the precedent of selling federal property to a religious organization.
The proposal died when a Senate bill it was attached to was withdrawn from further consideration.
U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., has been opposed to the sale of federal land to the church, citing the precedent issue.
However, he favors working out a long-term, renewable lease between the church and the BLM.
"What we want to do is get this out of our hair, then turn to the BLM and see what they can come up with (as a solution)," Thomas said.
He said the church has done a good job with the historic property.
Thomas said he will work with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to find a solution next year.
Hansen, chairman of the House Resources Committee, engineered the Martin's Cove sale through the House but was unable to get the Senate to act on it.