Carson City officials filed a 25-page appeal with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management this week, charging the federal agency did not adequately address the environmental impacts of a proposed Douglas County land auction.
John Singlaub, district manager for the bureau in Carson City, said the city's primary arguments challenge compliance with the national environmental policy act. He said he is disappointed by the appeal.
The land is between Jacks Valley Road and Carson City on the east side of Highway 395. The Bureau of Land Management was set to auction the land Dec. 10, with the opening bid at $6.5 million.
"We know it will go into private ownership and it's zoned commercial, but we don't know all of the potential impacts," Singlaub said. "The land could be bought by someone who wants to graze. The appeal would require us to study the fiscal and economic impacts on a much larger scope of study than we have been doing for these land sales."
Carson City Supervisor Robin Williamson said all the discussions and schematics she has seen point to commercial development. Housing, park sites and churches are expected to come later.
"I realize anyone can bid and get that land, but we have legitimate concerns," she said. "We tried talking with officials in Douglas County two years ago, but after a point in time, Douglas County Manager Dan Holler said they didn't want to continue."
She said Douglas County does not provide multi-family housing in its master plan, meaning many of these low-wage earners will live in Carson City.
"We anticipate more low-income families living in long-term hotel rooms in Carson City. We're already dealing with that problem," Williamson said. "There are also issues concerning transportation."
She said Carson City officials are trying to work with the Nevada Department of Transportation to complete the freeway, which will end in that commercial corridor. But existing surface roads are inadequate, and the added transportation needs have not been addressed, she said.
Nevada's tax structure spreads out the tax wealth, doling out money from revenue-rich urban counties to tax-poor rural counties. Carson City exports revenues, while Douglas County imports them.
Singlaub said Carson City officials want to delay the process until after the legislative session to see if the laws can be changed to help with tax structure or allow joint revenue-sharing. Williamson does not agree.
"We're not looking for salvation from the Legislature; we don't need a one-size-fits-all solution," she said. "We've asked for postponement of the auction so we can sit down and talk about our issues and hopefully resolve them."
She said box developers go where land is cheapest, the demographics fit, and they can cut best deal. Pitting one county against another works to their advantage.
She said the second draft of a study compiled to assess the impact of the land sale on Carson City said the issues could be handled without going to the legislature.
"That's what I want to pursue," Williamson said. "I don't want to be viewed as someone standing against economic development in neighboring counties, but I want the impacts on our county and neighboring counties to be identified. We need to look at this cooperatively as a regional issue."
The topic is on the agenda for the Douglas County Commissioners Dec. 5 meeting. Carson City officials have been invited and plan to attend.
Bob Abbey, state director for the bureau, has 30 days to reply to the protest. If Carson City officials disagree with Abbey's assessment, they can appeal to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, an independent board of law judges in Washington, D.C.
"If they appeal again, we've lost any kind of local control over the decision," Singlaub said. "I never thought it be so hard to sell public land to private ownership in Nevada."
He said Bureau of Land management officials have been working on the sale since 1998. If the sale goes forward, the money will be used to fund conservation easements in Douglas County, in addition to administrative costs of land sales in rural Nevada and Clark County.
Carson City earned $277 per capita in sales tax revenues in 2001. During the same year, Douglas County received $262.
Douglas County generated $8.8 million in sales tax revenues for fiscal year 2000-2001 and the state made up the balance, for a total of $11.4 million. Those sales revenues are expected to jump with the recent addition of Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target stores. Douglas County must generate $500,000 over the $11.4 million, before it converts to a revenue exporter.