Commission warns Forest Service about razing Dreyfus estate
If the 10,000-square-foot Dreyfus mansion in Zephyr Cove is razed, Douglas County leaders likely will fight to keep any land swap involving the federal government from happening within the county’s jurisdiction again, officials said Thursday.
“Hypothetically speaking, were that to happen we would think the federal land exchange program is dead,” Jacques Etchegoyhen, chairman of the Douglas County Commission, said Thursday.
“If the Forest Service were to try to tear those buildings down, it will probably be a really contentious national issue,” he added.
Juan Palma, forest supervisor of the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, spoke with commissioners briefly at their regular meeting Thursday. Palma said he could not discuss the controversial Dreyfus issue and “honestly (does) not know” what the federal agency had planned for the land.
He said his superiors at the Forest Service’s regional office in Vallejo, Calif., were the ones who would make the decision.
However, at the commission’s urging, Palma agreed to try to coordinate a meeting between Douglas County, the regional office, the owner of the mansion, Park Cattle Co., and others involved in the issue to try to bring closure to it. Palma announced earlier this week his plans to leave the Forest Service for a job with the Bureau of Land Management, and commissioners – who have been frequent critics of the Forest Service but thanked Palma for his efforts at Tahoe – urged him to do everything in his power to make something happen before he leaves.
“I believe you have the means and the wherewithal to pull out all the stops in a last-ditch effort to see if we can resolve this,” said Commissioner Steve Weissinger.
However, Commissioner Bernie Curtis, calling Palma a “short-timer” whose power now is limited, said other measures were needed.
“I suggest it’s time to pull out the big guns,” Curtis said.
He moved – and the other commissioners voted to support – that Douglas County urge Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn, U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons and Sens. Richard Bryan and Harry Reid to try to force the federal agency to not hastily raze the mansion and its caretaker’s cottage.
The mansion was built in the 1980s by mutual fund tycoon Jack Dreyfus, and the land upon which it sits was the subject of the most expensive land swap in U.S. Forest Service history.
The federal government two years ago gave an Arizona-based, land-brokerage company public land around Las Vegas in exchange for the property, which contains 3,000 feet of sandy beach, a meadow, creek as well as a caretaker’s cottage and a 12-bedroom mansion.
The Forest Service, which was to manage the land after the BLM made the exchange, had no interest in the mansion or other improvements on the property – cottage, driveway and fences – and initially was planning to demolish them. Instead, the agency allowed the Olympic Group, the brokerage company, to sell them to Park Cattle Co. The company, which has significant holdings in Douglas County, planned to use the mansion as a conference center.
County officials were pleased because Park Cattle Co.’s ownership would lead to more public access to Lake Tahoe and it would result in more tax dollars for the county.
Last year, before Park Cattle Co. could get a special use permit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the Inspector General began a criminal investigation into how the transaction was made. It was believed the Forest Service paid too much for the property. All proceedings stalled.
The investigator’s report was made public last week. It absolved Park Cattle Co. and Olympic of any wrongdoing and said mistakes made by the BLM and Forest Service were to blame for the problems. However, Forest Service officials still have not spoken publicly about the fate of the buildings.
Matt Mathes, press officer for the Forest Service’s regional office, said via phone Thursday after the meeting that there was no estimation of when the fate of the property’s buildings might be resolved.
“Our lawyers are talking to Park Cattle Co.’s lawyer, and our attorneys have reached a mutual agreement that neither side will talk about the buildings until we’ve reached an agreement on that,” Mathes said. “The buildings are private property. It’s appropriate to have discussions about private property in private.”
It has been reported that Forest Service officials, considering the buildings as trespassing on the land, are planning to demolish the mansion and cottage.
Bruce Park, president of Park Cattle Co., reaffirmed that report at the meeting.
“Recently, within the last two weeks, our legal counsel received communications from the Forest Service saying it was their intention to have that building there no more,” he said. “I don’t know how Mr. Palma can say he doesn’t know.”
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