Douglas County commissioners will evaluate agriculture agreement | RecordCourier.com

Douglas County commissioners will evaluate agriculture agreement

by Sheila Gardner, Staff Writer

Douglas County commissioners will evaluate an agreement Thursday with the federal government for a public land exchange that promoters say could pay landowners to preserve agriculture in the Carson Valley.

“We’re going to have a special meeting at 10 a.m. on Thursday to discuss a memo of understanding with the Bureau of Land Management,” said commission chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen. “We’re going to have a general overall discussion of the concept to discuss what the program might be and what it isn’t.”

Etchegoyhen – with Ame Hellman of the American Land Conservancy and John Singlaub, Carson City district manager of the BLM – has been working for several months to introduce the land exchange concept to Douglas County.

“Because federal entities own 87 percent of the land in Nevada, they’ll release some in Lincoln County, where only 1.8 percent is privately owned,” Etchegoyhen explained. “The government can then use the money for the purchase of development rights in Douglas County.”

Etchegoyhen, a champion of the federal land exchange, said the program is a perfect example of what Douglas County’s master plan is trying to accomplish.

“In a nutshell, what it does is keep some of the Carson Valley green forever, and it also doesn’t take property off the tax rolls. It stays in private ownership and the ranchers get to keep on ranching. It’s awesome,” Etchegoyhen said.

Under the proposed memo of understanding with the BLM, Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service, the county, in cooperation with BLM will identify parcels of private land in Carson Valley “that are vital to preserve the agricultural character and scenic quality of the area.”

Conservation easements will be purchased which will permanently limit future development while allowing landowners to retain ownership and use of their property for agricultural purchases.

Proceeds from the sale of public lands in Lincoln and Clark counties will be used to purchase the easements.

The county and the BLM agree to process the exchange proposals, including completion of a determination of market value of the easements. Douglas County will enforce deed restrictions.

“We will be making sure that buildings aren’t put where they shouldn’t be, but we do that already,” Etchegoyhen said. “There’s no real difference from enforcing the zoning codes on the same land that we do now. In fact, it makes it easier because it takes a number of acres out of the mix.”

Etchegoyhen said he hopes Thursday’s meeting will attract planning commissioners, ranchers, other property owners and “any member of the public who is interested in seeing that some semblance of the Carson Valley still exists in 50 years.”

Etchegoyhen said he and Hellman have discussed the proposal with the Nevada Association of Counties as well as with state land use officials. Etchegoyhen, also a rancher, acknowledges there are critics who view the proposal as simply “too good to be true,” or are leery of the federal government’s involvement.

“There is a little trepidation concerning the federal government. There’s the fear of ‘Who can control them?’ But my theory is, ‘Who could control them yesterday?’ On the other hand, how much control is there when you sell to a developer?” he asked.

“In the bigger scheme of things, this is not only good for Douglas County, it’s good for Nevada and it’s good for the West,” Etchegoyhen said. “If we don’t do this program, Carson Valley will be a sea of houses, there’s no doubt about it.”

The meeting starts at 10 a.m. in Douglas County commission chambers in the old courthouse in Minden and is expected to last approximately 90 minutes.

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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