Rep. Gibbons wants info disclosed | RecordCourier.com
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Rep. Gibbons wants info disclosed

by Sheila Gardner

U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons asked Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman Friday to disclose information to the press and public about the $38 million U.S. Forest Service land swap involving the Dreyfus estate at Lake Tahoe.

“I was disappointed to learn that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has denied two newspapers from receiving details of a report concerning an investigation on a U.S. Forest land swap,” Gibbons said Friday in his letter to Glickman.

The USDA Office of Inspector General denied requests from The Record-Courier and the Tahoe Daily Tribune to release the materials. The R-C appealed the decision Friday.

“I am aghast at their arrogance,” Gibbons said Friday after he returned to Nevada for the July Fourth holiday.

“It just seems bureaucracy is saying to the rest of the world, ‘We’re in control and we don’t give a damn about the public.'”

Gibbons said he believes if enough pressure is exerted, the USDA will turn over the information.

He said he intends to take the matter up with Rep. Don Young of Alaska who chairs the Forest and Forest Service subcommittee which has oversight of the agency.

“This is an issue we are going to watch very closely,” Gibbons said. “I have been very disappointed in the administration’s failure to respond to inquiries from Congress. It’s almost as if Congress and the public are irrelevant to their agenda.”

In his letter to Glickman, Gibbons requested immediate release of the materials requested by the Tahoe Daily Tribune and The Record-Courier.

“In order for our federal government to maintain the public’s trust, it is important that this information be disclosed immediately,” Gibbons wrote. “Upholding the Freedom of Information Act is not just an obligation, it is a responsibility and a promise to the public.”

Gibbons joined a long list of people interested in the results of the federal government’s investigation into the $38 million land swap involving the Dreyfus estate at Zephyr Cove. The USDA has refused to provide the report because officials say the investigation is ongoing.

n No response. Douglas County District Attorney Scott Doyle asked for the report on behalf of the county commissioners.

“I believe that is the position the USDA is taking with everyone,” Doyle said Thursday. “It’s not just the media that is being singled out.”

County Commissioner Don Miner, a vocal critic of the U.S. Forest Service, said he’d urge the board to go to court to obtain the report, if necessary. He called the refusal to release the report “a gag order” imposed by regional Forest Service officials in San Francisco.

“The Clinton administration would well serve the public by getting rid of those entrenched bureaucrats who are more concerned with saving their own asses than working to the benefit of the people who pay their salaries,” Miner fumed.

The USDA’s recalcitrance will cost the Forest Service the county’s support of the so-called Feinstein bill, which would pump $300 million into Lake Tahoe over the next 10 years, Miner said.

“Douglas County has been kind of a hold out on support of the Feinstein bill because of the Forest Service’s lack of credibility,” Miner said. “It’s truly unfortunate. The Forest Service at Lake Tahoe has been so dishonest, unlike the Toiyabe Forest Service. They (Toiyabe) are working very closely in Carson Valley. It’s a different form of bureaucracy that doesn’t allow the Lake Tahoe issues to see the light of day. They have no right to maintain secrecy.”

Gordon DePaoli, who represents the Park Cattle Co.’s interests in the land swap, said he would be requesting the report, but isn’t optimistic it will be released.

“We’ll probably get the same response,” DePaoli said Friday. “These people are something else. I never could figure out what their investigation was focused on, even when they interviewed me. It wasn’t really anything they didn’t already know about how the Park Cattle Co. got involved.”

In 1997, the federal government gave an Arizona-based land brokerage company, the Olympic Group, private land around Las Vegas in exchange for the 46-acre parcel of land containing the historic Dreyfus estate. The Park Cattle Co. purchased the mansion and other improvements on the property with the understanding that a special land-use permit would be issued for the company to operate the building as a business. Negotiations stalled last summer when questions arose over an audit in which officials claimed the property should have been appraised at $10 million less without the improvements, resulting in a savings to taxpayers.

n No criminal findings. The investigation that recently concluded resulted in no criminal findings, according to special agent in charge David Dickson.

“I think the Office of Inspector General has been very open to tell us what the status is,” Miner said. “(The) regional forest supervisor in San Francisco has the gag order in on all of his cronies. He is slowing down the entire Dreyfus action, which will encourage us to sue them. After the fact, they figured they could get Dreyfus for $28 million after it was appraised for $38 million. They already raised the $38 million from the sale of Bureau of Land Management property in Las Vegas, so what’s the big deal? It’s another government snafu by incompetent bureaucrats spending government money to keep taxpayers off public land, and they’re afraid to admit it.”

n Meeting July 15. Miner said he was looking forward to questioning Juan Palma, Forest Service supervisor of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. Palma is scheduled to discuss the land swap at the July 15 county commission meeting. He also promised to brief the board on issues discussed at a Forest Service meeting June 29 in San Francisco to discuss the results of the investigation.

“I fully expect Juan to address all the issues of concern,” Miner said. “He has repeatedly stated that he wants to work with us and other jurisdictions, but he is repeatedly falling short of his promises. I think that can be attributed to his bosses.”

Miner said the county wants to master plan the Dreyfus area and get the property back on the Douglas County tax rolls.

“The local folks give us indications that is a possibility, but that same mentality has not been shown by the regional forester or any of the crew that is also under the gag order in San Francisco,” Miner said.