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BLM Defends City’s Open Space Program

by John Singlaub

It’s hard not to appreciate the Appeal’s managing editor Barry Smith in his recent observations on BLM’s image and his suggestion that BLM adopt the name “New Defenders of the Purple Sage.” While trying to find the humor in BLM’s quandary with being the middleman in the public land debate, he has reminded me of another image problem that needs defending … the Carson City Board of Supervisors and the Open Space Program.

Over the last month, the editor of the Appeal has regularly reminded his readers that the Board of Supervisors mismanaged the million-dollar deal with Al Bernhard. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Board showed courage and vision in moving ahead with the 61-acre land acquisition recommended by the City’s Open Space Advisory Committee.

The deal secures a key parcel of land that connects the Silver Saddle Ranch with the Prison Hill Recreation area, affording the public better access, protecting wildlife habitat and saving the hillside from another housing development. BLM has agreed to pursue acquisition of this parcel in the long run and ultimately repay the city’s Quality of Life fund.

The city reacted quickly, as it can, to acquire these lands when they came on the market. This gives the BLM time to nominate this parcel for federal acquisition, a time-consuming process requiring approval by the Secretary of the Interior.

This is an example of how partnerships should work between local and federal governments.

While most agree that this acquisition was a positive step for the open space program and the public, there is still lingering criticism that the city was snookered on the deal, paying more than double for the land. This is not the case here. Both the City and BLM land acquisition programs may pay no more than fair market value to willing sellers.

For this deal, the city relied on the value set by a certified appraiser, one that the BLM also uses. Federal appraisal standards were

followed in anticipation of the future purchase by BLM. The fact that we can only pursue acquisitions from willing sellers does allow a private developer to add value to his property by subdividing the lands and readying it for development.

The City is obligated to assist the landowner in developing a property consistent with master planning and zoning rules. Mr. Bernhard pursued this path, adding value to his property, before becoming a willing seller. Despite the added value, the Board of Supervisors determined that the purchase was in the public interest.

BLM agrees.

While the principals of “fair market value” and “willing sellers” seem to interfere with the quest for a “bargain” price, they do ensure that individual land owners are protected from unfair takings by the government through use of condemnation. It is the balance the public has demanded for the open space program.

We are lucky to have such a program here in Carson City. With the public’s support, we hope to continue to work together with the City on such efforts that improve our quality of life here in western Nevada and for all Americans.

John Singlaub is the field manager for the Bureau of Land Management in Carson City.