MINDEN - Proposed federal legislation allowing a land exchange that would benefit Lincoln and Douglas counties will be changed to address allegations of a possible "sweetheart deal," but a spokesman says it shouldn't jeopardize the overall plan.
David Cherry, Nevada press secretary for U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the senator and U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., will amend bills on the so-called "Lincoln-Douglas Exchange" to ensure that any federal land sales are subject to a competitive bidding process.
Under the proposed exchange, federal land in Lincoln County would be given to Lincoln County to sell. The profits would boost Lincoln's economy - more than 98 percent of the county's land is federally held - and also provide money to buy conservation easements in Douglas County. Conservation easements are agreements from the owners of ranches and other open land not to develop it.
While officials from both counties were enthused with the plan, John Singlaub, field manager for the Carson City Bureau of Land Management office was skeptical because Lincoln planned to sell its newly acquired holdings to one person.
Cherry said the congressmen decided to amend their bills to require a competitive process for disposing of any federal lands.
"We're not saying that it's a bad deal in terms of what it would mean for Lincoln or Douglas," said Cherry. "It's just the process by which it's being done that we need to take a look at. We figured if that question has arisen, why even go forward?"
Singlaub was not available for comment, but Jo Simpson, chief of communication for the BLM state office, said the agency will support whatever Congress passes.
"We strongly support having Lincoln County acquire more land. We'll do whatever the legislation directs," she said.
Simpson didn't know if representatives for Reid and Gibbons had formally contacted BLM with news of the proposed amendment, though Cherry said the change was a response to Singlaub's concerns.
The amendment may not be necessary if another bill proposed by Reid is approved.
SB 719, nicknamed the Northern Nevada Lands Act, would establish guidelines for selling federal land in northern Nevada. In addition to providing a uniform process, it would prevent any single-bidder situations, such as in Lincoln.
"If the Northern Nevada Land bill had been passed, it would govern the Lincoln-Douglas Exchange," said Cherry. "Right now, there's a lack of statutory framework. We just need some framework."
A similar act, known as the Southern Nevada Lands Act, is already in place, but it only covers the Las Vegas Valley. The Northern Nevada act would apply to the rest of the state.
Cherry didn't know the status of the proposed land act or when it might become effective. The Lincoln-Douglas bill could see action in the current session, but Cherry said no hearing dates are currently set.