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The two words "per acre" cost the county a $102,000 land sale Thursday.

Auctioneers and county officials declared the high-profile land auction a "no sale" when the man who won thought he purchased 40 acres in the Black Hills west of Deerfield Lake for a total of $2,550.

In fact, he had bid that much per acre — essentially 40 times as much, or $102,000.

The confusion left a young concrete worker apologetic, an auction company speechless and the second-place bidder enraged. 

It was the first time 21-year-old Matt Astin of Hermosa had bid at a land auction. He hoped to make the property a grazing pasture for himself and his brothers.

Auctioneer Kevin McPherson yelled "sold" and announced the sale for $2,550 per acre at the auction at the Pennington County Courthouse. Astin moved to a small white table and as he prepared to pay the 20 percent earnest money, he realized what happened.

A tape of the meeting reveals the auctioneer said once during the auction the sale price was per acre and twice when it closed.

About 40 people attended the auction, though most did not bid. Only three registered bidders lasted beyond the first few bids.

Astin, who works for a local concrete company, left the courthouse quickly after County Auditor Julie Pearson announced the the sale was invalid.

The auction will be rescheduled by county commissioners at their meeting on Nov. 9.

Dave Hanley of Rapid City finished second in the bidding. He said he felt exposed after Astin erroneously pushed him to his bidding limit.

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"Once I get the feeling that I was bid up by an invalid bidder, I just feel like I got played," Hanley said. "I already tipped my hand. It is entirely too easy for somebody else to jump in knowing my position on the property, and I could get played all over again by somebody knowing where my stopping point was."

Rather than seeking a legal opinion, County Auditor Julie Pearson opted to declare no sale rather than award Hanley the property.

Todd McPherson, business manager for McPherson Auction and Realty, which handled the auction, said he has never seen this happen and doubts it has since the company's founding in 1949.

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"Very rarely do you sell an acreage not by the acre," McPherson said. Exceptions could be a property with only a couple of acres that could be sold as a lot.

The 40-acre tract is west of Deerfield Lake and sits at about 6,850 feet elevation. Pennington County owned the land for nearly a century but didn't realize it until recently and opted for an auction to get the land off its books.

The county has said it will use the money to pay off about $3,500 in advertising, attorney and planning fees. The rest will be divided among the county taxing districts, with the largest percentage going to the school system.

Todd McPherson said he could not demand Astin pay the 20 percent earnest money despite the auction rules clearly stating it was a requirement.

"It was required, but I can't force anybody. It is an arm's length transaction, and if you are going to put your feet in the sand and say 'I'm not going to do this' I can't make you," he said.

Auctioneer Kevin McPherson said the "bar has been set" for the next auction and was stunned Astin thought he purchased the land for just under $65 an acre.

"When there is multiple acres, it is always (sold) by the acre," he said."There is no land in the Black Hills of South Dakota that has sold for $65 an acre for the last 100 years."

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Contact Ryan Lengerich at 394-8418 or ryan.lengerich@rapidcityjournal.com.

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