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Committee could decide fate of Fallon, Nellis ranges

By Steve Ranson Nevada News Bureau

Both the U.S. Senate and House passed on Thursday their versions of the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which renewed land for military training for both Naval Air Station Fallon and Nellis Air Force Base in southern Nevada.

Both chambers could convene either later this month or before the end of the current session with a conferencing committee that will hammer out any additional differences between the Senate and House. Each chamber must once again pass the version that comes out of the conference committee. The two defense bills each authorize about $8 billion.

According to the office of U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, who represents most of Northern Nevada, the present language of each bill will extend the current land withdrawal and reservation of lands for the Fallon Range Training Complex. The House version extends the withdrawal for 25 years, while the Senate calls for a 20-year lease.

Neither bill includes language to expand the training ranges, however, but both the congressman’s office and Churchill County said discussion will most likely occur with the conferencing committee. The Trump administration, though, strongly favors expansion for both Fallon and Nellis and requests it be included in the final NDAA.

“This requested expansion of the (Fallon) range is essential to accommodate Naval Aviation and Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) training at Naval Air Station Fallon needed to support the National Defense Strategy,” the administration requested of Congress. “The FRTC is currently too small to accommodate realistic training with precision-guided munitions, and is too small for SEAL ground mobility maneuver training in a tactical and relevant environment.”

The current FRTC consist of more than 234,124 acres of land within the training areas Bravo-16, southwest of Fallon; Bravo-17 east near Fairview Peak; Bravo-19, 30 miles south off U.S. Highway 95; Bravo-20, northeast of Fallon; and the Dixie Valley and Shoal Site training areas. The current Navy request includes a withdrawal of an additional 604,789 acres of additional public land and an acquisition of about 65,160 acres of non-federal land for the range modernization and expansion.

Jeremy Drew, a consultant with Resource Concepts Inc. who has been working with Churchill County since the Navy announced its expansion plans in 2016, said requests have been made to minimize and mitigate impacts. He said request to minimize the Navy’s proposal include replacement of Sand Canyon and Red Mountain roads, required managed access to the Bravo ranges and guarantees to leave Dixie Valley open to the public and available for multiple use management.

Mitigating the impacts, said Drew would include the following: full compensation for all affected property owners, including property, mineral claims, grazing permits and water rights.

“All of this has been well documented in past county documents to the Navy and congressional delegation,” Drew said.

Churchill County also favors a lands bill to assist in economic development if Congress grants the additional land withdrawal to the Navy. The bill would resolve any issues with Wildlife Study Area, checkerboard land ownership and direct conveyances to the county and city of Fallon. Amodei’s office said the Churchill County lands bill is incorporated into the FRTC Modernization authorization and both bills are both part of Division A of H.R. 6889.

“The loss of taxable private lands within Churchill County necessitates the need for lands suitable to replace and improve the tax base, principally through land conveyances,” the county stated in a resolution.

Amodei’s office said legislative aides have been working with the various tribal governments affected by the FRTC modernization with the federal government reaching settlements with two tribal governments, the Washoe and Walker River Paiute tribes. A senior staffer said talks have been ongoing with all affected tribes about their cultural concerns.

At the final county/Navy meeting in January to discuss the land withdrawal, many attending the two-hour session expressed concerns the Navy was asking for too much land to be withdrawn from public use. Other people suggested the Navy and the U.S. Air Force share training land in Southern Nevada. Tribal members said they were upset the Navy wanted to disturb burial grounds and cultural artifacts.