BLM studies north valley land swap |

BLM studies north valley land swap

by Christy Chalmers, Staff Writer

The Bureau of Land Management is preparing to take public comments on a plan for developing 440 acres in north Douglas County.

Mike McQueen, a planner with the BLM’s Carson City office, said an environmental assessment for the land is nearly done, and could be released for review in early January.

After a 60-day public comment period, the agency can issue a decision on the proposal. Approval would clear the way for the BLM to begin negotiating with private developers to swap land in the Carson Valley area for the 440 acres.

The BLM land is part of a 624-acre area between the Carson City line and North Sunridge Drive east of Highway 395. Douglas County prepared a development plan for the area that includes zoning for offices, businesses, houses and public facilities.

McQueen said the residential and commercially-zoned BLM land will be available only through exchanges, not direct sales. Interested developers will be asked to trade land in Carson Valley or buy conservation easements, which pay land owners not to develop open or environmentally sensitive land. The result would be privately-owned land that has permanent building restrictions, with the development rights used on the BLM land.

If the plan proceeds, Douglas County could see the conservation easement theory implemented for the first time.

“I think it will move forward,” said McQueen. “We know there’s interest from a couple of ranchers to participate, and there are some developers that are interested in acting as third parties (to acquire the conservation easements).”

The environmental assessment lists criteria for acquiring land and defining environmentally sensitive property. The federal government recently approved a boundary change for the BLM and Forest Service that was necessary to allow the swaps.

The biggest remaining issue, McQueen said, is determining the value of a conservation easement. Values could vary based on factors like whether a land owner is willing to include public access and the type and amount of land involved.

McQueen said he worked on a similar program in Arizona, and conservation easements there were valued at 50 to 75 percent of the full value of the land.

If agreements are reached, each transaction is then subject to an environmental assessment that could take three to six months.

Though that could mean development of the 624 acres would take years, McQueen said BLM officials are satisfied with the progress they’ve made and consider the plan a model for the rest of Nevada.

“The whole intent, from the BLM’s standpoint, is to assist the county in protecting open space and the floodplain within Carson Valley,” said McQueen. “This plan isn’t a silver bullet, but it makes something possible that isn’t possible now.”