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Proponents optimistic about ranch

by Sheila Gardner

With a boost from the Nevada Supreme Court, proponents of turning the historic – but decaying – Dangberg Home Ranch into a state park are feeling optimistic.

“This appears to be the first leg of a victory for the state of Nevada and the citizens of Douglas County,” said Gardnerville attorney Milos Terzich, who represents the estate of the Katrina Glide, the last granddaughter of the pioneer Dangberg family.

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Monday that the state of Nevada and the Glide estate can intervene in litigation over what happens to the old home ranch.

The Supreme Court decision effectively stopped Douglas County from accepting $50,000 from the Dangberg Home Ranch’s current owners as settlement on the claim to the piece of property. The ranch has been in litigation since 1996, a year after Glide died, the property sold, and jockeying began over the future of the 10- to 30-acre home ranch.

“The decision was so strong that in my opinion, it sort of gives guidance to the trial judge as to how the Supreme Court feels about this entire issue,” Terzich said.

In a 6-1 decision, the court said the state had sufficient interest in the matter to warrant intervention because of a 1977 sale agreement and 1978 lease agreement which granted property rights to either the state or Douglas County.

At one time, the Dangberg Ranch, settled in 1856, encompassed 48,000 acres in the heart of Carson Valley. Parcels have been sold off, and the last remaining chunk of 9,900 acres was purchased by Don Bently and Bruce Park as Dangberg Holdings Nevada LLC. The new owners argued that the 20-year-old agreements were not enforceable and refused to turn over the property to the county. They also said they were concerned about a historical museum located in the middle of an operational cattle ranch.

n No deal. In 1997, county commissioners agreed to accept a $50,000 settlement for the ranch and drop its case. At that point, the Glide estate and the state of Nevada intervened to secure the ranch as a state park.

No formal appraisal of the property has been completed, but the state believes the disputed acreage is worth $1 million.

“Obviously, this is not the decision we were hoping for,” said Reno attorney Gordon DePaoli, who represents the ranch owners. “We’re going to look at it and see where we are going from there. This was a procedural decision and is not a decision on the merits of the case. That issue will proceed at the trial court.”

Both sides are seeking a summary judgment from Washoe District Judge James Hardesty who was appointed by the Supreme Court to hear the case. Earlier proceedings had been conducted by Senior District Judge Carl Christensen, whose rulings were upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court. Christensen has retired from the bench.

Douglas County’s district judges David Gamble and Michael Gibbons voluntarily disqualified themselves from hearing the case, which has been in litigation since 1996.

Douglas County Commissioner Bernie Curtis said Friday his position has not changed: The county can’t afford to operate a park at the ranch site, especially after the 1997 Legislature reallocated room tax revenues previously used to fund such projects.

“The Dangberg Ranch is obviously a nice place, but where do we get the money to operate a facility such as that without increasing taxes, especially in light of the changes in the room tax laws from the 1997 Legislature?” Curtis asked. “How would you do that without the vote of the people?”

The county has more than $1 million set aside in reserves for the ranch. Part of that money has already been spent on improvements at the Minden-Tahoe Airport.

County Commission Chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen, also a rancher, agreed with his colleague.

“I think the concept is fabulous, but from a monetary standpoint, it’s a daunting task. I don’t see myself changing my position or see anybody coming forward with $4 million or $5 million getting it done.

“I’d rather drive by there and see cows and green grass for the rest of my life,” Etchegoyhen said. I’d rather use the money to buy the development rights.

“My heartstrings can pull one way, but I have to look at it pragmatically. I don’t want to see another museum money pit,” he said .

n State interest. The state of Nevada is ready and willing to take over the ranch as a living history park site.

Wayne Perock, administrator of the Nevada Division of Parks, believes funding for the Dangberg Home Ranch site can be secured through a partnership of private and public funding including legislative help and fund-raising.

In a report prepared earlier this year for the Interim Finance Committee, Perock estimated it would cost $50,000 to come up with an initial proposal for the home ranch, and $200,000 to $1 million for implementation of architectural and engineering plans.

He said it could be 10 to 20 years to develop the park, not an unusual length of time for such a project. Operating and maintenance costs for the first two years would be $110,000 and $83,000, respectively, Perock estimated.

“Previously with historic properties, it has taken a number of years until we got them open,” Perock said after the Supreme Court ruling. “We can bring the public on the property periodically and do other things that need to be done before we have a full-fledged park.”

Judge Hardesty has scheduled oral arguments for July 23 at 9 a.m. in Douglas County District Court.