Effort to secure federal land keeps Lyon County officials spinning
Appeal Staff Writer
Efforts to secure passage of a Lyon County Lands Bill have gone through so many twists and turns that if it were a road, it would be Geiger Grade.
The legislation was crafted by the Lyon County Board of Commissioners in 1990 to assist in obtaining federal lands the Bureau of Land Management deemed as disposable to be used for schools, fire stations, recreational facilities and animal shelters, as well as funding construction and operation of the planned National Wild Horse and Burro Center in Mound House.
There was also $2 million earmarked for Virginia & Truckee Railway reconstruction.
That plan changed in 2004, when the federal government said 85 percent of any land deal must go to the BLM, to use as it saw fit. Then it changed again when wilderness advocacy groups became involved.
“They changed the rules in the middle of the game,” said Bob Milz, chairman of the Lyon County commissioners. “Originally they were going to allow the county to designate lands to be sold at auction and the proceeds would go to the wild horse facility and the V&T Railroad, and that was what the delegation said was OK.”
But a rule, 85-10-5, came into play after a similar bill for Lincoln County in southeastern Nevada was proposed, according to Milz. The BLM would get 85 percent of the funds, Lyon County would receive 10 percent for schools, roads, parks, jails, fire stations and other uses, with the remaining 5 percent going to the state for schools.
“What happens with the wild horse and burro center is BLM would, out of their 85 percent, pay to build the facility and to have the endowment set up,” Milz said, adding there is no requirement the BLM do so.
Milz said the bill in its current language allows for BLM to pay for required environmental impact studies when Lyon County designates land for recreation or public purpose use, such as parks, jails, schools or fire stations.
“The county would set priority as to which of those lands we would like,” he said.
He said the proposed $2 million for V&T reconstruction was off the table because the federal government already approved $10 million as an amendment to this year’s energy bill.
The county could make $50 million or more on the 3,265 acres sold, according to Milz, so commissioners accepted the changes. Lyon also stands to gain 4,500 acres of federal land for recreation and public purpose projects such as schools, parks, animal control facilities and similar uses.
In spring, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., suggested including Walker Lake negotiations on water rights in the lands bill, which was designed to speed up land exchanges between BLM and private owners, and allow for the sale of some public lands as well as maintain wilderness areas.
The Walker River link was dropped in July, but a push to set aside wilderness area remained.
Several environmental groups calling themselves the Nevada Wilderness Coalition, which includes the Wilderness Society and Friends of Nevada Wilderness, have insisted the bill require that 80,979 acres at Bald Mountain and 11,284 acres at the East Sister of the Sweetwater Mountains between Wellington and Bridgeport, Calif., be designated as wilderness. The group also wants 13,395 acres in Burbank Canyon near the Lyon County/Douglas County line to be set aside as a wilderness study area.
“We were told the bill would not move forward unless we agree to a wilderness area,” Milz said.
He said Lyon County officials are opposing the requirement to set aside wilderness for three reasons: the county has an ordinance prohibiting any more wilderness areas, there are allotments for grazing on those parcels and public resistance.
“We had the bill all ready to go, and the wilderness people came in and said, ‘How about us?’ ” Milz said. He cited the National Wild Horse and Burro Interpretative Center and 30,000 acres from Santa Maria to Douglas County that would be a wilderness area.
Richard Knox, membership director for Friends of Nevada Wilderness, declined to comment. Other members of the group could not be reached. The organization’s Web site, http://www.nevadawilderness.org, lists the Lyon County campaign and the sections the group is seeking to set aside for wilderness areas.
Milz said county officials were willing to negotiate with the wilderness groups, but “they’re not going to get what they’re asking for.” He said he expected a compromise of some kind to be reached eventually.
— Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.
In the original 1990 proposal, funds from BLM land swaps would have gone to:
• $10 million to construct the National Wild Horse and Burro Interpretive Center in Mound House
• $5 million as an endowment for the center to keep it open
• $2 million to the V&T Railway reconstruction committee
• $5 million to $10 million for Nevada’s schools
In the current bill:
• 85 percent of funds raised by land sales would go to the BLM, which, if it chose, could build and endow the National Wild Horse and Burro Interpretive Center.
• 10 percent of the funds would go to Lyon County for recreation and public purposes such as parks, fire stations, jails and affordable housing developments.
• 5 percent would be earmarked for the state to be spent on education.