By Thomas Mitchell
A package of seven Nevada public lands bills — collectively known as the Northern Nevada Land Conservation and Economic Development Act — recently cleared the House Natural Resources Committee on a 29-14 bipartisan vote.
The package is expected to be approved by the full House, but its fate in Harry Reid’s Senate, where House bills go to die, is murky.
Among the seven bills in the package is the long-awaited Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act, which would allow the town of Yerington to buy 12,500 acres of federal land adjacent to the Pumpkin Hollow copper mine for an industrial park. It is estimated the project could create 800 to 1,000 permanent jobs and about 500 jobs during the construction phase.
“I would say there is a trifecta of good news out of the Natural Resources Committee in the House this week,” said Rep. Steven Horsford in an interview. “Obviously, I’m very pleased the effort by the local community in Yerington to move forward the land exchange legislation that will create more than a thousand jobs in Yerington and the southern Lyon community. I’m happy that we were able to get a bipartisan vote out of the Natural Resources Committee and I’m looking forward to an expeditious vote by the full House.”
Rep. Mark Amodei had been pushing the Yerington land bill prior to the congressional redistricting that put Yerington in Horsford’s district. Both have continued to provide support.
Horsford noted that Sens. Dean Heller and Reid have already had hearings and action on a companion Yerington bill in the Senate, noting the bill has the backing of the entire delegation.
Though there have been objections from a few Democrats to a section of the legislation that says the Blue Lakes and Alder Creek wilderness study areas will no longer be candidates for wilderness designation, Horsford said, “This is all about the legislative process and we will make sure that the bill continues to move with the bipartisan support it has had since day one.”
Reid earlier delayed the Yerington bill by demanding the creation of a 48,000-acre Wovoka Wilderness area. Even though Yerington is buying its acreage at fair market value, the bill now contains that wilderness area, which local officials have opposed in the past.
“That this legislation features 71,500 acres of wilderness versus 23,154 acres of economic development is a major compromise for a House majority that has been characterized as obstructionist by some,” Amodei said in a statement. “I find it incredible that outside groups with no on-the-ground knowledge of these measures and some members of the minority from other states would choose to ignore the spirit of compromise and presume to tell Nevadans what to do with Nevada’s land.”
The other six measures in the land bill include:
— The Fernley Economic Self-Determination Act, which would allow Fernley to buy 9,000 acres of federal land within the city limits at fair market value for a multi-use development.
— The Naval Air Station Fallon Housing and Safety Development Act would transfer 400 acres to the Navy, allowing it to build 200 new military family homes. The transfer was first requested in 1991.
— The Restoring Storey Act would transfer the surface rights to 1,750 acres of federal land in Virginia City to Storey County to resolve conflicting ownership and title claims.
— Carlin Economic Self-Determination Act would let Carlin buy federal land surrounding the city at fair market value for multi-use development.
— The Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act would create a 26,000-acre wilderness area in Humboldt County. It is a designation the officials of that area have sought for years.
— The Elko Motocross and Tribal Conveyance Act would provide 275 acres for the Te-moak Tribe of Western Shoshone to construct a motocross recreation area.
Now that the Northern Nevada lands bill is moving forward, Horsford said work can begin on a lands bill for Southern Nevada that would protect the rare fossil deposits in Tule Springs just north of Las Vegas and free up public land for use in Lincoln County.
He said of the Tule Springs proposal, “That bill is particularly important to Southern Nevada — the tourism-based economy, having the archeological discoveries found recently, the partnership with research and higher education to provide very unique opportunities for research and archeological studies is going to be just a phenomenal opportunity. It will grow the economy and create jobs as well. That’s been my priority since day one.”
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read additional musings on his blog at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.