Carson sues feds; Douglas prepares to intervene

Carson filed a federal lawsuit Friday suing top officials in the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada asking federal district court to halt the public auction of 144 acres in northern Douglas County.

Counsel with the Washington, D.C., office of Latham & Watkins, hired by the city last year, filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., arguing the decision to sell the public parcel violates several federal land acts, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

The lawsuit names Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, Assistant Secretary Rebecca Watson, Nevada BLM Director Bob Abbey and Carson City BLM Field Office Manager John Singlaub as defendants.

"What happened in this case is that they simply didn't address all the factors that should have been addressed," said Carson City Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Forsberg. "They just totally ignored them and that makes their analysis flawed."

Douglas County commissioners will intervene in the lawsuit, siding with the BLM. Commissioners were stunned at Carson's decision to sue.

"I'm just sitting back aghast in this situation," said Douglas Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen. "I think there are 16 other counties in Nevada who can't believe that Carson City would block a federal land sale. It has a chilling effect on any other proposed BLM land sale in the state of Nevada."

Etchegoyhen said as a result of Carson's actions Friday, Douglas County would sue to stop any future release of lands by the BLM for the completion of the Carson Freeway. He publicly resigned Thursday from the Carson Water Subconservancy Board in protest.

Other Douglas commissioners called for severing all ties with their neighboring county as the situation was labeled as "war."

Carson will file a request for injunction next week, asking the court for a temporary restraining order to stop the land auction set for Aug. 6.

If granted, the injunction could stall the sale of the land for two years or longer until the case is resolved, Forsberg said.

"We're extremely disappointed," said Jo Simpson, spokeswoman for the state BLM office in Reno.

Legal costs have reportedly reached $130,000 for Carson City and are expected to run as high as $300,000.

The land proposed for sale is on the east side of Highway 395 across from Wal-Mart. The potential sale has inflamed emotions on both sides of the county line. It was the first parcel of a larger 300-acre holding listed for disposal by the BLM.

The proceeds of the sale were expected to pay for protecting thousands of acres of Carson Valley ranch land along the Carson River, though it was not guaranteed.

Fearing mostly the further loss of retail sales dollars to Douglas County, Carson City protested the sale in November. The protest asked the bureau to reconsider the sale, citing the lack of environmental and economic impact studies. The protest was dismissed by the assistant secretary of the interior in June.

Carson's lawsuit asks the court to find that the environmental assessment document and the finding of no significant impacts study done by the government before the sale did not comply with federal environmental land acts.

The complaint says the studies failed to adequately address environmental affects of the sale, failed to consider reasonable alternatives or discuss reasonable mitigation measures, and is not in the public interest.

The complaint argues the sale would adversely affect Carson and its residents by impacting water supply, air quality, waste-water and solid-waste systems, increase traffic and litter, destroy open space, displace and destroy wildlife and habitat, and affect water quality and wetlands through increased storm-water runoff.

The sale would also cause the city by to lose $3.8 million per year, the complaint said.

The city is asking the courts to find that the BLM did not meet federal land act laws and should comply with the laws by further studying impacts of the sale before the land is auctioned. It also asks the court to allow the city to recover costs and expenses of the legal action, including attorney fees.

The court will issue a decision about whether they will issue an order to stop the sale possibly within five days of receiving a request for injunction, Forsberg said.


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