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Reid, Heller introduce land swap bill for Yerington mine

Updated Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 | 2:47 p.m.

Nevada Senators Harry Reid and Dean Heller released a public land-swap bill that trades permitting for the Nevada Copper mine in Yerington for designation of wildnerness areas nearby.

But it doesn’t have much chance of passing this Congress before the end of the year, Reid’s office admits.

And even if it did, this is not the agreement the rest of the delegation necessarily wanted or expected to strike on public lands in Nevada.

The bill, dubbed the Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act of 2012, gives a federal grant of authority to hand about 12,500 acres of land to the City of Yerington, so it can further develop the area around the Pumpkin Hollow copper mine site -- a project that is expected to create 800 mining and 500 construction jobs.

At the same time, it also converts 48,000 acres of land in Lyon County into wilderness land, for which Reid has long been pressing. Ranchers and miners earning their living in the area would have their “rights and interests” protected under the bill, according to the announcement of the measure.

Officials in Lyon County had long resisted the designation of the Wovoka Wilderness Area—named after a Native American spiritual leader from the area. But just last week, the Lyon County Commission approved the transfer, clearing the way to write the federal law needed to make the transfer official.

“I am very happy to be part of this legislation which will create lots of jobs in Lyon County, which are so desperately needed,” Reid said in a statement. “It’s a bill that’s going to meet the needs of modern-day Nevada.”

“This legislation is the result of the hard work of Lyon County, Yerington, and all the local residents who came together to get the deal done,” said Sen. Dean Heller. “There is no doubt that this bill will provide some much-needed relief at a time when Nevadans are desperate for jobs.”

But not everybody in the delegation is necessarily celebrating.

Earlier this month, Rep. Mark Amodei told the Sun that any land swap deal, should include the Pine Forest wilderness area in Humboldt County, not Wovoka

“I’m not going back to Winnemucca and saying, ‘Hey guess what?...Congratulations, you’ve done everything right, but you’ve got nothing to show for it,’” Amodei said.

Amodei had hoped to trade the 26,000 acres of potential wilderness land in Pine County for the 12,500 acres of potential mining land in Yerington. He had filed bills on both, which had been appropriately vetted in the regular Congressional order; the Yerington bill even passed the House as part of a larger package earlier this year.

Before Reid and Heller’s bill was unveiled Thursday, there was no bill at the federal level concerning Wovoka – which would have been Amodei’s to file, as the land is within the 2nd Congressional District he represents to the House.

Amodei had been planning to appeal to Reid in the waning weeks of the calendar to make the trade between Pine Forest and Yerington.

Amodei said he had not yet read the bill but pointed out that the Pine Forest bill had been percolating through Congress for more than a year, while the combination Yerington-Wovoka bill was introduced with only a few days left in Congress.

“It’s not the way I’d do business,” Amodei said. “I’ll just leave it at that for today.”

A spokeswoman for Reid confirmed Thursday that the bill had been introduced mainly to get the would-be Yerington-Wovoka deal on the record before the close of the session, not because there was any particular plan in place to fast-track the legislation through Congress in the few days that remain in the congressional session. The new, 113th Congress is sworn in on January 3rd.

Next year, however, the political calculus around this issue will be different. Amodei will no longer represent the part of Lyon County concerned -- that will be under incoming Sen. Steven Horsford’s jurisdiction, as the first representative for the 4th Congressional District.

Horsford said Thursday that he intends to introduce companion legislation to Reid's and Heller’s bill in the House upon taking office next year.

“I support the Yerington land exchange bill, based on the creation of some 800 direct jobs and nearly 2,000 indirect jobs...The fact that local leaders in Lyon County supported the wilderness compact speaks to the importance of this project,” Horsford said. “I’m glad that the local leaders, along with the proponents, have all been really involved.”

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