Carson Valley residents are worried about losing access to public land if a swap proposed by businessman Don Bently proceeds.
A standing-room-only crowd told Douglas County leaders last week access is their top concern, but many are also worried about long-term impacts if Bently acquires the 32,000 acres he is interested in.
A proposal Bently submitted to the U.S. Forest Service expresses interest in acquiring 25,000 acres along the east side of Carson Valley, 5,000 acres near Mud Lake, south of the Gardnerville Ranchos and 2,000 acres in Alpine County, Calif. Bently is proposing to trade 17,400 acres he owns in Carson City, Douglas and Churchill counties and Mono County, Calif.
Bently and two of his lieutenants listened as more than a dozen residents outlined their concerns. Though Bently says he's only interested in consolidating his existing holdings and farming the proposed acquisitions, the residents want assurances the land won't be developed.
"(Bently) is a known commodity in the community. The next generation I don't have a comfort level with. That's an unknown commodity," said county commissioner Steve Weissinger, drawing applause and shouts of agreement.
Others wondered if the Bureau of Land Management, which controls much of the potentially affected acreage, will address their concerns. A hint that access corridors to remaining public land would be provided if the exchange proceeds was met with skepticism.
"We don't need Berlin corridors to get into our own land!" called an audience member.
County commissioners reserved judgment on the proposed swap, saying they don't have enough information and will be wary until they do.
"I may agree with pieces of the plan after I study it more," said commissioner Don Miner. "I don't know enough about the details of this plan."
After the hearing, Bently said he was not surprised at the comments.
"I'm here to learn, pure and simple," he said.
Bently said he understands the residents' concerns, and any plans for a swap must proceed "very slowly and gradually. I want to do what's right for the whole community."
BLM and county officials say they will hold public hearings if the proposal proceeds. They indicated the process could take years.