A bill to transfer federal land to the State of Nevada was the focus of Wednesday’s meeting in the county commissioner chambers.
Currently, about 85 percent of land within the state is federally owned; Commissioner Bus Scharmann said this is more than most states including Alaska.
Mike Baughman, president of Intertech Services Corporation, gave a presentation on HR 1484, a bill presented during the last session of Congress to transfer federal Nevada lands to the state’s control. The bill would transfer land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, land marked as solar energy zones, mineral and geothermal leases and land marked as suitable for disposal in federal land use plans.
According to Baughman, within Churchill County alone, 76,900 acres are available for transfer under the bill. He said the bill would allow the state to work with the county to decide what to do with it.
“In the present system, there are laws on the books, which allow BLM and forest services to sell property,” said Congressman Mark Amodei (R-NV). “They’re not selling, even lands designated for disposal.”
The bill would also create a state board of examiners who would manage land transfer issues and sales. Scharmann said the board would likely consist of the governor, secretary of state and attorney general.
However, since the Congressional session closed, HR 1484 died and will need to start the process over.
This led into the second big item of the meeting, a presentation by Amodei on a new bill he is drafting to reach the same goal. Amodei is working with Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) to reintroduce a similar bill. He said their goal is to have it ready to submit by late February.
Amodei said having the land in the state’s control is good for Nevada; he said the state could “set its own economic progress” and would be able to designate an area for development or other uses on its own as well as selling parcels. Money from mines, geothermal industries and mineral operations would also go to the state rather than the federal government.
“My personal thought is, I’d rather the sale of that land is made so the proceeds of that sale come to the State of Nevada rather than to Washington D.C.,” he said.
When the public was invited to comment, one of the biggest concerns was for which areas would be transferred. A number of residents said seeing a detailed map of the plan would help them decide if they like the proposal. There were also concerns over whether public access to lands would remain; some people noted the possibility that hunting or fishing spots could become unavailable.
“If there’s recreation going on, for example in the checkerboard lands (the I-80 corridor) and that land is going to be developed … something’s going to happen there and maybe you can’t recreate there anymore,” Baughman said. “That’s where the state could block up other lands and create an area for recreation.”
In response to the concerns, Amodei and Baughman said existing land rights would remain after the transfer, unless it were sold independently; however, Amodei also invited anyone with concerns to look at maps once they’re available and request an area be reconsidered if it hinders recreational uses.