Bills to hand over federal public land to local governments advance … again

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Mitch3_1Pardon us for not swooning in anticipation of the economic windfall about to be bestowed on rural Nevada by the seven public lands bills that were again passed out of a House committee just before the August recess.

Both of Nevada’s congressmen who represent the rural areas — Mark Amodei in the north and Steven Horsford in the south — put out verbatim press releases heralding the passage out of the House Natural Resources Committee by unanimous consent a package of seven bills that could have major economic impact on several communities if ever signed into law.

The same set of bills passed the same committee in January by a vote of 29-14, though there reportedly has been some tweaking of the bills since then.

The press releases said the bipartisan support clears the way for the legislation to be brought to the House floor in September as a non-controversial suspension bill.

“Working to create jobs and strengthen the middle class has been my number one priority in Congress,” said Horsford in both releases. “Today, Democrats and Republicans unanimously moved a legislative package forward that will grow Nevada’s economy. Thanks to Congressman Mark Amodei and others, we have been able to find common sense bipartisan solutions that bridge the partisan divide. When we work together and put Nevada first, political posturing fades into the background, and our constituents benefit.”

For his part Amodei was quoted as saying, “These are community-driven lands measures that will create jobs without cost to the federal taxpayer. For the second time in two years, the eyes of Northern Nevada turn to the Senate.”

While the congressman from northern Nevada was not so gauche as to spell out what he meant by that remark, allow us to explain.

The Senate is under the leadership of Nevada’s senior senator, Harry Reid, who has not deigned it a priority to push various versions of these bills, including ones he and Sen. Dean Heller have sponsored over on the Senate side.

In fact, when last one of the bills in question progressed to the point of actually being voted on, Reid threw a monkey wrench into the works. What is now called H.R. 696, the Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act, would allow the town of Yerington to buy, at market value, 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.

But Reid demanded that the bill include designation of 48,000 acres of wilderness, to be called the Wovoka Wilderness Area, a proposal the local residents had previously rejected.

H.R. 696, now has a section that states “the area designated as the Wovoka Wilderness by this section contains unique and spectacular natural resources, including — (A) priceless habitat for numerous species of plants and wildlife; (B) thousands of acres of land that remain in a natural state; and (C) habitat important to the continued survival of the population of the greater sage grouse of western Nevada and eastern California …”

The Yerington bill now has languished in Congress for six years.

Other bills in the package include:

— H.R. 433, the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act, which also has been sought by Humboldt County officials for years, would create a 26,000-acre wilderness area.

— H.R. 1167, the Restoring Storey County 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.

— H.R. 1168, the Carlin Economic Self-Determination Act would let Carlin buy federal land surrounding the city at fair market value for multi-use development.

— H.R. 1169, 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.

— H.R. 1170, the Fernley Economic Self-Determination Act would allow Fernley to buy 9,000 acres of federal land within the city limits at fair market value for a multi-use development.

— H.R. 2455, the Elko Motocross and Tribal Conveyance Act would provide for the sale of  275 acres to Elko County for a motocross track and put 373 acres in trust for expansion of the Te-moak Tribe of Western Shoshone reservation.

Harry Reid should take a little time between rants about the Koch brothers to put these bills to a Senate vote.

Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at thomasmnv@yahoo.com. He also blog at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.

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