Bryan says land swap issue is how to pay landowners for development rights

U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., says a proposal to trade federal land in Lincoln County for a deal keeping parts of Douglas County permanently open and undeveloped will go through.

The plan is being pushed by Bryan's fellow lawmakers, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev. The deal was put on hold amid charges Lincoln County had already made a "sweetheart deal" with a developer for the property.

But Bryan said Tuesday in Carson City the solution will simply require the land be put up for the highest bidder.

He said it won't stop the deal, the other half of which allows two Douglas County ranchers to sell the development rights on their property to the federal government so that it must remain permanently in open space.

The plan is to give the land to Lincoln County, which is more than 98 percent federally held and provide money to buy "conservation easements" on the Douglas County land.

"The question that has arisen is what is the funding mechanism to pay the ranchers," said Bryan. "The concept is that the land would remain in private ownership but that they would give up development rights."

He said he thinks the money should come from the cash raised by land sales under the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act.

That act allows the sale of developable federal lands in the Las Vegas urban area and puts 85 percent of the money into a fund for recreation facilities, the purchase of fragile lands and other such uses.

"Some of the money could be used to acquire those development rights," said Bryan.

He said such deals serve the needs of all concerned at both ends of the state.

On another topic, Bryan said he believes the best solution to the Leviathan Mine pollution problem is to make it a "Superfund" site.

"I think it's going to happen and the sooner the better," said Bryan.

The old mine site, upstream from Douglas County on the Carson River in Alpine County, was shut down and abandoned years ago. But Leviathan's ponds, containing heavy metals and other dangerous pollutants, overflow during high-water periods and drain into the Carson River, which serves both agricultural and domestic uses in both Douglas County and Carson City.

"It's the only way to go because it gets the job done," said Bryan. "And then we can quarrel over who pays what share."

He made the comments during a stop at the capitol while visiting Nevada during the congressional break.


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