Carson City looks for feds to pay for land deal | NevadaAppeal.com

Carson City looks for feds to pay for land deal

Jill Keller, Appeal Staff Writer

Carson City’s top manager said Wednesday he is confident the city will be paid back for a $1 million open-space land purchase made in 2001 even though the Bureau of Land Management already has shot down the idea three times.

Carson City Manager John Berkich met Tuesday with several state officials and staff from the office of Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., in part to find out when the city might get paid back for the land it bought in 2001.

The bureau encouraged the city to buy the vacant 61.5-acre parcel near Prison Hill before it could be turned into a new housing development.

With a ready supply of funds from the voter-approved 1996 Quality of Life, the city quickly made the purchase — its most expensive and largest open-space land acquisition to date.

Since then, the city has gone to the bureau three times and been denied repayment. The third round of denials has been reopened, but mostly to reconsider Southern Nevada land acquisitions, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton said in November.

A fourth application will be made Jan. 10.

Berkich said discussions at Tuesday’s meeting gave him hope that the Prison Hill acquisition will come through in the third or fourth rounds.

“The meetings served to give us confidence that we’ll see the money reimbursed in the near future,” Berkich said.

The continued denials have some city staff questioning their trust in the bureau to make good on future agreements.

“It would be very tragic to put that (trust) into jeopardy,” said Carson City Open Space Manager Juan Guzman.

The city is hoping the bureau will repay the city using funds from the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act passed in 1998. Under the act, the bureau is authorized to sell in Las Vegas Valley and use the funds in part to buy environmentally sensitive lands in Nevada with priority given to lands within Clark County.

Ensign, who co-authored the act, has pushed agency officials to buy land in Southern Nevada first before considering other lands in the state. In the latest round of land acquisitions finalized Nov. 13, the bureau spent $45 million to purchase lands.

All of that property is in Clark County with the exception of the purchase of Ballardini and McCarran Ranches in Washoe and Storey counties.

An Ensign staff member reported Wednesday that he assured Berkich the Prison Hill property was “still in the mix,” but won’t be a priority until southern lands are considered first.

Berkich and officials from Washoe and Douglas counties decided with Ensign staff Tuesday that representatives from Nevada congressional districts would sit on the committee that decides which lands will be considered in the future, Ensign’s aide said. Berkich said he thinks this will make the process more equitable.

The Prison Hill property qualifies for purchase under federal programs because it abuts other federal lands.

The purchase takes away city open space funding that could have been used to buy lands that would otherwise not qualify for funding from other sources, Guzman said.