Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 | 2 a.m.
With almost 87 percent of its land owned by the federal government, Nevada is frequently dependent upon Congress to free up or redesignate parcels of land needed for development, conservation and other uses.
But since Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign struck a sweeping compromise in the Southern Nevada Land Development Act of 1998, it has been increasingly difficult to get Congress to rubber-stamp certain projects — even if they have unanimous support at home.
The following is a Top 10 list of public lands legislation Nevada lawmakers have on their current congressional agenda.
Yerington Land Conveyance and Sustainable Development Act
The legislation that has emerged as the top priority for public land management actually is one of the youngest lingering about Congress. The measure would hand over 10,000 acres of land currently owned by the Bureau of Land Management to the City of Yerington to put for the development of a copper mine, in exchange for designating 48,000 acres of the Wovoka Forest in Lyon County as wilderness. It was first introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei in early 2012, just a few months after he got to Congress.
Pine Forest Range Wilderness
The Nevada delegation agreed that this bill, which seeks to designate 26,000 acres north of Winnemucca in Humboldt County as federally-protected wilderness, would be the No. 2 item on their public lands agenda earlier this month. It was first introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei in 2011.
Three Kids Mine Remediation and Reclamation Act
Rep. Joe Heck is the sponsor of this bill to transfer about 1,260 acres of federal land to Henderson to aid in the cleanup of Three Kids Mine. The abandoned site across the highway from Lake Las Vegas has been classified as a toxic waste dump. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives last year, but never made it through the Senate, where Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma had put a sweeping hold on all public land conveyance bills.
Tule Springs National Monument
This 23,000 acre area of the Las Vegas Valley centered around a fossil bed that dates back to the Ice Age would be Nevada’s first national monument. Sen. Harry Reid put the bill together just last year, but it has already risen to the top of the Nevada delegation’s agenda of public lands bills they intend to tackle.
This enormous parcel of federal land (it’s bigger than Las Vegas) has not yet been addressed by any scripted legislation. But advocates in Clark County says there is plenty of public support for designating at least several hundred acres of this patch between Lake Mead and the Arizona border as national conservation and recreation land. Just a few months into his congressional tenure, Rep. Steven Horsford is already taking trips to the site, a preliminary steps to drafting a bill.
Naval Air Station Fallon Housing and Safety Development
This bill would expand the area managed by Fallon Naval Air Base by about 400 acres -- but those acres, adjacent to the base, are currently managed by the federal government. Theoretically, the bill should be less tricky than land transfer deals that give public lands over to private managers. The lands would stay in the hands of the federal government, but authority would be transferred from the Secretary of the Interior to the Secretary of the Navy. That takes an act of Congress, which hasn’t happened yet.
Nellis Dunes National Off-Track Vehicle
Like off-roading? Enough people in Southern Nevada do that Nevada lawmakers have spent the past few years trying to get Congress to green-light an off-highway vehicle recreation park in Clark County. The bill has a little something for the environmentalists, too, including protected areas and a special permission to outfit the federal land with renewable energy generators, especially solar, to power the facility. But the construction can’t move forward until the land is transferred to Clark County.
Fernley Economic Self-Determination Act and Carlin Economic Self-Determination Act
The federal land situation in Fernley and Carlin is often likened to a checkerboard: The municipalities have federal land they can’t touch within city limits, a frustrating hurdle for would-be developers in these northern mining towns. The bills, introduced by Amodei last year, would allow the cities to buy up whatever federal land lies within the city limits at fair market value. Amodei wants to take this standard national: He plans to introduce a “small parcels bill” that would streamline the process for public and private entities to purchase land plots smaller than 160 acres adjacent to what they already own, provided there are no environmental concerns with the transfer.
“You gotta pay for it, so it’s not a giveaway,” Amodei said.
Southern Nevada Higher Education Land Act
Nevada’s colleges are growing, and they are in need of more space to house students, classrooms, labs and other special education outfits. But they are running into a familiar problem: It’s difficult to expand in Nevada without bumping into federal land. The bill, which had the backing of the entire delegation last year, would free up parcels of land in North Las Vegas, Pahrump, and Clark and Nye Counties to allow the University of Nevada, the College of Southern Nevada and Great Basin Community College to expand and establish secondary campuses in order to serve an ever-expanding student population.