Lincoln County land sales bill passes House

WASHINGTON - Legislation authorizing the sale of federal land in rural Nevada county and opening the way for a water pipeline to Las Vegas headed to the president Wednesday after final passage by the House of Representatives.

President Bush was expected to sign the Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation and Development Act after the House passed the bill on a voice vote.

"This proposal enjoys the support of the entire Nevada congressional delegation and is the result of exhaustive public participation," said Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.

"This bill is well-balanced," said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. "It will help Lincoln County flourish and create economic opportunities for its citizens."

The bill directs the Bureau of Land Management to auction up to 90,000 acres of federal land in the large, sparsely populated county just north of Las Vegas and Clark County. It establishes a utility corridor that would allow the Southern Nevada Water Authority to build a pipeline to tap into groundwater in eastern Nevada and draw as much as 200,000 acre-feet of water per year - enough for more than half a million households - for thirsty Clark County.

The legislation also designates 768,294 acres as new wilderness, while 251,965 acres now designated for wilderness study would be withdrawn for other uses.

The legislation that passed the House on Wednesday was identical to a version of the bill that passed the Senate last month. The initial bill had been revised to address Bush administration concerns about the proceeds from the land sales.

Originally the bill would have directed 5 percent of proceeds to the state education fund, 45 percent to Lincoln County for economic development, and 50 percent to the Bureau of Land Management for management and protection of archaeological resources and conservation.

The final version of the bill sends 5 percent to education, 10 percent to Lincoln County and 85 percent to the Bureau of Land Management. That's the same formula used under the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, which became law in 1998 and affects land in Clark County.

As compensation for the change, Lincoln County will be allowed to apply for grants from proceeds of Clark County land sales.

Although Nevada's two senators and three House members supported the bill, some opposition came from environmentalists who wanted more wilderness protected and feared the effects of transferring so much water to southern Nevada.

The water authority would get the right of way free, even though Interior Department officials had sought payment for environmental studies and other work.

The bill says Utah must be included in discussions about the water transfer plan after the state's lawmakers expressed concern about losing water from its aquifer. Utah also was added to a study of ground water quality, volume and other issues required by the bill.


The bill is H.R. 4593.


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