I-Team: Legislature expected to tackle public lands debate

LAS VEGAS -- One state task force estimates it could mean millions of extra dollars for Nevada if the state were able to takeover control of more public lands. More than 80 percent of the state is owned by the federal government.

There's passion on both sides of the issue.

The legislature has tried to address the issue since the 1960s. It has mostly resulted in toothless resolutions urging the feds to give Nevada some land.

The debate will be tackled once again during the legislative session in February and with a Republican controlled state senate and assembly, and a Republican governor, the federal control of land within Nevada's borders is looking very likely.

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Work on the 215 northern Beltway is coming at a substantial cost, but the highway is seen as a vital link for the growing north part of the Las Vegas valley. Some of the cost will go to Washington D.C. because some of the land is controlled by the federal government.

"It's a cluster. It impedes development, and it impedes the practical common land use," Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins said.

He says the county paid almost $1 million to the Bureau of Land Management to expand the highway and the county will continue to pay the feds -- to lease the land -- as long as Uncle Sam owns it.

"We have over 30,000 acres of land that school houses are on, that libraries are on, that have easements and right of ways, and flood control channels, and streets and highways and detention basins, you name it," Collins said. "A lot of federal land checker boarded throughout this valley."

Collins says renewal of lease paperwork and federal red tape costs Clark County taxpayers every year. He has been a supporter of bringing federally controlled land into state hands and was part of a 17-member task force charged with examining the issue statewide.

The report concluded that Nevada could make more than $200 million per year if some seven million acres of federal land throughout Nevada would change hands.

Commissioner Collins doesn't think the federal government will just hand over millions of acres.

"No, no, not all at once. Definitely not all at once."

Collins says he envisions the land would largely be used the same way if it came under state control. He says the land could generate cash in the form of rents, fees and could even be sold for development.


"There are two basic reasons that I see, that the task force report didn't really answer. One is the money. We don't have money to take over the federal lands, all the federal lands," said Paul Aizley, a former state assemblyman.

Aizley says Nevada cannot afford to pay for things like fire suppression should a wildfire break out. He says the federal government spent millions battling wildfires in 2013, among other expenses.

"The second thing that seems to be clear, is that there are hundreds of employees in Nevada, working in the BLM, forest service and so on," Aizley said. "Where are we going to work them? Which county is going to take them on and put them on the payroll?" 

Collin's says the task force report is just a suggestion to the feds and nothing more.

Nevada GOP leadership has said publicly the debate over federally controlled land in Nevada will be a key issue in the upcoming legislative session.

Proponents say locals could do a better job managing the land without input from Washington D.C. politicians.

Be sure to watch channel 8 at 6 p.m. for Rebellion on the Range.


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