Federal land sales net $800 million: Portion of the money often comes to Tahoe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Federal land sales net $800 million: Portion of the money often comes to Tahoe

Amanda Fehd

Three thousand acres of federal land in Las Vegas were auctioned Wednesday, netting $800 million that should all return to Nevada and some of it to Lake Tahoe if everything goes according to plan.

Money from land sales in Southern Nevada has long been a source of funding for environmental improvements and land acquisitions in Tahoe.

“That’s an immense amount of money and we’re grateful that we could use a portion of it to (reduce the threat of wildfire) and for land acquisition in Lake Tahoe,” said Matt Mathes, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, one of several agencies eligible for the money.

The auction was part of the latest round of sales under the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, authored in 1998 by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., along with then-Senator Richard Bryan, D-Nev.

“We’ve done some remarkable things throughout this state with the proceeds from these lands sales, and it is absolutely critical that the funds continue to stay right here in Nevada,” Ensign said in a press statement. “I will continue to fight to make sure that the intent and integrity of this legislation is honored.”

The money’s fate came into jeopardy earlier this year when President Bush and other Republicans suggested it should go straight into the Treasury.

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Shortly after the Act passed, a real estate boom hit Las Vegas, bolstering the value of desert land surrounding it. The unexpected profits caught the eye of lawmakers seeking to reduce the federal deficit.

Ensign has consistently argued it was the hard work of Nevadans which made the land valuable in the first place, so the money should stay in Nevada.

On Aug. 10, Ensign announced a 777-acre property near Incline Village valued at $75 million would be acquired by the Forest Service using funds from the federal land sales. The senator called it “one of the most important land acquisitions in Nevada history.”

A 3 1/2-acre lakefront lot valued at $27 million is also on a list of acquisitions eyed by the federal government.

Interior Secretary Gail Norton must still approve the purchases.

In addition, the land sales fund much of the $900 million slated to be spent on Lake Tahoe’s environmental improvement program. The program includes erosion control projects, research, planning, capital improvements and maintenance, all intended to restore Lake Tahoe’s clarity and environment.