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Park cattle disputes federal report

Sheila Gardner, Record-Courier editor

A proposed land swap by Carson Valley businessman Don Bently comes on the heels of two reports by the federal Office of Inspector General which recommends such transactions be more closely monitored or halted.

In a July report, the OIG is highly critical of the $38 million Zephyr Cove land exchange – one of the most expensive in U.S. history – because the exchange failed to give the public access to Lake Tahoe and cost taxpayers twice the appraised value of the property.

A report issued a year ago cleared all parties of criminal intent, but the inspector general’s office has continued to be critical of the transaction.

The Minden-based Park Cattle Co. bought the nine-bedroom, 11,000-square-foot Dreyfus mansion in 1997, planning to turn the 15-year-old residence into a conference center. The $3 million home, formerly owned by New York mutual funds tycoon Jack Dreyfus, sits on Forest Service land on the shore of Lake Tahoe.

The Forest Service has refused to issue Park a special use permit to operate the conference center.

The July 2000 report recommends that the Park Cattle Co. be charged $1.35 million in back rent for what it calls unauthorized occupancy of the mansion.

The report, signed by Inspector General Roger C. Viadero, faults the Forest Service personnel in the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit for “failure to obtain for the American public clear title to this unique and remarkable lakeshore property … What was to be a prize acquisition for the Forest Service is instead a fenced-off area with a title encumbered by claims of private ownership, with access by the public restricted by a private operation … with a total cost to the government ($38 million) that is potentially in excess of twice the actual value of the land when it was conveyed to the Forest Service.”

Attorney Gordon dePaoli, who represents the Park family, said Friday the July 2000 OIG report is another attempt to cover up government ineptness and blame his clients.

“If you read this, the whole problem in the eyes of the Forest Service is the result of Forest Service and BLM personnel locally and in the regional office having failed to do their jobs. Yet, no one in the Forest Service has the courage to say to the OIG that the Park Cattle Co. is as much, and more so, a victim of malfeasance as the public at large. Someone at the USFS needs to step forward and say, ‘We have to resolve this.'”

DePaoli said it’s clear to the Park family that the USFS won’t issue a special permit to operate the mansion.

“If you follow what is recommended, they’ll make some kind of offer to buy the improvements. If we don’t like it, they will file a recommendation to condemn the property,” he said.

DePaoli said the Park family was working on a new land exchange for the Dreyfus property “with their (Forest Service) blessing, but they have pulled the rug out from under that.

“We’re really running out of options at this point. The longer it goes, the further apart it gets. We need to put this behind us. We need someone in the Forest Service to say, ‘You didn’t create this problem,'” dePaoli said.

DePaoli said three representatives from the OIG were on the Zephyr Cove property Thursday.

“They were inquiring as to when the the fences were removed and the extent to which the beaches were being used. That’s kind of surprising to me because it looks like they have already come out with a report with respect to what we have been doing without ever having gone out to look.”

According to the inspector general’s report, the Park Cattle Co. padlocked gates around the mansion, posted “no trespassing” signs and authorized a caretaker to chase people off the property, claims even the USFS disputed.

Fencing and “no trespassing” signs that went up before Park acquired the property were removed. The fence along Highway 50 was left to “prevent indiscriminate vehicle access and an unsafe parking situation and resource damage to environmentally sensitive areas,” the USFS said in response to the inspector general’s report.

“To our credit, all we have done is take care of the private buildings and protect them. We haven’t used them this whole time,” dePaoli said. “Why the report ignores those facts is beyond me. This report to me is the epitome of government buck passing.”