Dreyfus Estate negotiations drawing protests
STATELINE – Closed-door negotiations on the future of the Dreyfus Estate are drawing an ever-louder protest from people who think the public is being left out.
“Our purpose is just to get them to let there be public input,” said Joyce Nolan, a Douglas County resident, who has been joined by as many as 20 people on her Saturday Dreyfus walks. “Why won’t they listen to anyone from the public. That’s just not fair.”
A hike on Saturday was the fourth trip for the group, who believe they have something to add to the ongoing talks about the 10,000-square-foot mansion, caretaker’s cottage and driveway housed on the property.
The U.S. Forest Service and Park Cattle Co. have been talking for months, without revealing any information about the negotiations to the public.
In a land swap valued at $38 million, the federal government two years ago gave a land-brokerage company, Olympic Group, public land around Las Vegas in exchange for the 46-acre Zephyr Cove property, which contains 3,000 feet of sandy beach, meadow, creek, caretaker’s cottage and mansion.
The Forest Service had no interest in the mansion or other improvements on the property and was planning to demolish them. Instead, the agency allowed Olympic Group to sell them.
Park Cattle Co., which has extensive holdings in Douglas County, made the purchase with the understanding that a special land-use permit would be issued to operate the buildings as a business. The cost was $300,000, two memberships to Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course and seven weeks exclusive use of the mansion annually for 20 years.
Park Cattle Co. applied for a special-use permit from the Forest Service, asking for use of the buildings and an additional 80 acres of land.
Officials withdrew the permit application after the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the Inspector General began a criminal investigation into how the transaction was made.
The Department of Agriculture earlier this year released the investigative report, which found no criminal wrongdoing. The report says the regional offices of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management were inexperienced in dealing with land swaps such as the Dreyfus one – the most expensive land exchange in history – and that was the underlying reason for the problems hampering the exchange.
Park Cattle Co. and the Forest Service then began negotiating the future of the mansion. Both parties agreed not to speak about the talks publicly.
“Bear in mind, the negotiations do not involve public land or public buildings. It’s standard to have negotiations involving private property in private,” said Matt Mathes, press officer for the U.S. Forest Service regional office. “We realize some people don’t like that. But we hope what people realize is the Forest Service has an exceptionally strong interest in doing what’s best for the public, and we always have.”
Nolan said she was worried that the mansion and part of the surrounding land would be managed in such a way that would restrict its use.
“We think it should be something other than a private corporate retreat,” she said. “There are other things that can be done with that land. It’s really a beautiful piece of property.”
Nolan said the group meets across the highway from the Zephyr Cove fire station at 1 p.m. and walks on the property. They are not permitted to touch the buildings or walk on the driveway. Another walk is scheduled for next Saturday, Oct. 16.
Mathes said the protesters are welcome on the land. However, he said Pat Romiero and Phil Bayless, the two regional Forest Service workers involved in the negotiations, are passionate about doing what is best for the public.
“I have never known anyone in the Forest Service in my 21 years that is more dedicated to providing good public access,” he said. “Believe me, the public wants these two people on their side.”
Mathes said negotiations are ongoing and couldn’t say when an agreement may be reached.
“These things always take time. We just ask the public to be patient,” he said. “Our interest has not changed. Our interest is to improve the public’s access to the shoreline of Lake Tahoe.”