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Letter in support of land exchange ready for action

by Christy Chalmers

Congressman Jim Gibbons may get a letter from leaders in Lincoln and Douglas counties saying private parties who obtain public land through the Lincoln-Douglas exchange should pay fair market value and the profits should be earmarked for Douglas County.

Douglas County Commission Chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen signed the letter Tuesday, and it has been sent to the Lincoln County Commission for concurrence.

U.S. Rep. Gibbons, R-Nev., is sponsoring one of two bills that would allow Lincoln County to obtain federal land, then sell it to private developers. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has introduced a similar bill.

The legislation was hobbled in October amid concerns that the federal land would be resold without a competitive bidding process, and that the proceeds weren’t specifically designated for use in Douglas County. Douglas leaders want to use the money for conservation easements, which are legally binding agreements with ranchers and other owners of open space to keep the land undeveloped.

Since the concerns were voiced, a spokesman for Reid said the congressmen will change their bills to require a competitive bidding process for the federal land.

The proposed letter to Gibbons states “support for the general concepts embodied in the Lincoln-Douglas land exchange proposal” but emphasizes two goals: private party acquisition of the federal Lincoln County land at fair market value and proceeds from the sales dedicated to buying conservation easements in Douglas.

The letter, which will also be sent to Reid, U.S. Rep. Shelly Berkley, D-Nev. and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., concludes by assuring Gibbons that the parties are willing to cooperate and hope the exchange can be completed quickly.

“We think it covers the issues that we want to make sure are included,” said Etchegoyhen. “It’s totally, abundantly clear that everyone is in support of the concepts embodied in the exchange.”

Ideally, said Etchegoyhen, the exchange could be done administratively by the Bureau of Land Management, with the federal legislation as a backup measure.

More than 98 percent of Lincoln County’s land is owned by the federal government, so Lincoln stands to benefit economically from an increased tax and business base. At a meeting in October, Lincoln officials said they hoped to have the exchange completed by 2001.