Tangle of ownership unsnarling for Nevada’s historic townsites
April 26, 2002
Some long-standing trespass and ownership issues between residents in Nevada’s historic townsites such as Virginia City and Gold Hill and the federal government may one day be solved.
The beginnings of the solution are being developed now in Nye and Esmeralda counties.
Residents in many Nevada communities have been paying property taxes on land and homes for as many as 100 years only to find out the property is owned by the federal government. Residents in Nye County’s Ione and Esmeralda’s Gold Point found out in 1991 they were squatters on federal land.
In the past 11 years, they have worked with the Bureau of Land Management and now Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to resolve the complex disputes.
To fully resolve the issue has taken legislative action and now requires an Act of Congress.
A series of five public meetings by the land management agency on the issue conclude today in Reno.
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In addition to Ione and Gold Point, residents of Storey County’s Gold Hill and Virginia City may also one day be able to resolve similar federal-private ownership issues.
Without proper conveyance, such as a patent or as part of a townsite conveyance act, property owners have been living on, making improvements to and paying on lands they don’t own.
Officials say the new legislation will not affect Nevada’s mining laws.
Reid is drafting the federal legislation, which if passed would fund the costs of transferring the property into private ownership and allow the government to relay the land to the counties, said Mary Ellen Giampaoli of the agency.
The state law passed by the 2001 Legislature says:
— Only persons who have continuously occupied the property or whose predecessors in interest have occupied the property for at least 25 years; hold written deeds or other title documents to the properties; have paid all applicable ad valorem taxes on the properties are eligible to gain title to the properties without undergoing the competitive process under the new state and federal legislation.
Nathan Naylor, press secretary with Reid’s office, said Wednesday the legislation is being drafted. He said it is a priority, but “there are not enough hours in the day to fight Yucca Mountain and deal with all this.”
The plan is to transfer property from the federal government to the counties and from the counties into private ownership. State law allows the county to transfer land to the property owner without becoming embroiled in the state’s competitive bidding process usually called into play during the sale of state lands.
Neither the state law nor the proposed federal law are limited to Nye and Esmeralda counties and may be used by other historic townsites facing similar problems.
The townsites of Gold Hill and Virginia City have never been transferred from federal ownership. Some 19th-century property owners completed the process, though most did not.
Now, more than 140 years later, the mixture of mining claims, private property claims and federal ownership claims more closely resembles a tangled ball of string than a series of map points.
Counties interested in resolving ownership issues should begin by talking with BLM State Director Bob Abbey and working with Reid’s office.
IF YOU GO
What: Historic Townsite Land Conveyance meeting
When: 5 p.m. Friday
Where: BLM Nevada State Office, 1340 Financial Boulevad, Reno
Get there: From Highway 395 north take Longley Lane to South McCarran Boulevard, McCarran to Mill Street, left off Mill to Financial just west of intersection with McCarran.