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Incline Lake deal in jeopardy

Andrew Pridgen

Reports that the federal appraisal for purchase of Incline Lake came back low to the shareholders of Incline Lake Corp. surfaced Thursday, causing speculation from at least one Incline-based family, long-time shareholders of Incline Lake, that the deal may not happen as planned.

Michael MacLean, a Reno-based member of the MacLean family long-known as the clan who lived year-round at Incline Lake from the late-’60s until the late-’90s, said shareholders in his family were “confused and disappointed” by the Forest Service’s initial appraisal.

“From what I understand the appraisal was way off and the board will turn it down,” MacLean said. “The (shareholders) are sworn to secrecy to not release the figure. My younger brother, Hawley, who is a (shareholder), said it was equivalent of being offered $100,000 for a million-dollar house.”

Local agency perspective

If true, $.10 on the dollar analogy would mean that the appraisal came back at approximately $7.5 million.

Norm Nash, president of Incline Lake Corp. and representative of the ownership group, noted his disappointment with the initial number the U.S. Forest Service released late Wednesday.

Nash and the ownership group, who is represented by Minden-based land consultants Terra Firma, said they will continue to work with the forest service.

Jacques Etchegoyhen, a principal at Terra Firma, said the firm would continue to work through the process with a focus on seeing the public acquisition through.

Other major stakeholders in the property’s potential public acquisition, Incline Village General Improvement District and Washoe County, mirrored Etchegoyhen’s sentiment with respect to sticking with the goal Sen. John Ensign set forth in August, 2005.

“IVGID will be watching this (latest) development very carefully as it will have a direct impact on the two purchases approved by the IVGID board,” said IVGID public works director Dan St. John “…Namely the purchase of five acres (of the parcel) as well as the water rights for drought contingency planning.”

The 777-acre property was originally valued at $75 million by the ownership group in 2005. That amount was earmarked to be covered for by Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act funds in its Round 6 funding cycle.

“The central purpose of the appraisal was to determine the fair market value of the property,” said forest service spokesman Rex Norman, noting the appraisal was done by a private sector not forest service appraiser. “The $75 million figure often publicly associated with the property was not an original Forest Service offer price, but rather an anticipated price based on preliminary market analysis, developed by the land owners and land brokers.

“This seller’s anticipated price used by the broker in the development of the SNPLMA project proposal. All parties were aware, and it was stated in the SNPLMA proposal, that an offer would be based on an appraisal of fair market value done by an appraisal.”

SNPLMA was a bill co-authored in 1998 by Sen. Ensign to acquire and preserve for the public “important” lands and to fund improvement projects on existing lands.

IVGID is slated to pay, and has applied for grant funding to help offset cost to the district, $1 million for its share of the lake.

Washoe County has preliminary agreed to help manage the property, including infrastructure.

Sen. Ensign appeared on the shores of Incline Lake in August after having promised the lake would be in the public’s hands in one year’s time.

While self-imposed truncated deadline was not met, Ensign lauded local agencies for their co-operation and said the project was moving along expeditiously.

Some feel a setback may hurt Ensign’s credibility.

“Frankly, I think Ensign would be embarrassed with this news,” MacLean said. “I can understand progress and change, and my family can accept that (the property) may no longer be in our hands. I would hope that if the forest service is going to stumble around like they did on Pondorosa that a private guy like (Pondorosa owner and Incline resident David Duffield) buy it.

“With all the secrecy involved – and it’s all going to come out sooner than later – it looks rather stupid.”

Ensign, in a statement released late Thursday, said he is prepared to “make sure property owners get a fair hearing about the legitimate issues they raised concerning this appraisal.”

“I commend the Incline Lake Board members for their patience and resolve in moving the public acquisition of this magnificent property forward,” Ensign said. “They are by no means walking away from this complex sale to the Forest Service.”

Building concerns

Some shareholders, including the MacLeans this week said there is a rise in concern that existing buildings on the Incline Lake property, including Incline Lake founder and Nevada icon Norman Biltz’s cabin, as well as the observatory and clubhouse, are slated to be razed by Washoe County prior to acquisition.

Washoe County parks and open space director Dough Doolittle supported, in part, this sentiment noting, “We have been told that the (forest service) does not want existing buildings on the property when they acquire it.

Doolittle also cautioned the county has had plans for existing buildings.

“We have always hoped that the buildings could be evaluated for possible future use.”

With regards to the terms of the acquisition or any potential removal of buildings, Doolittle was loathe to comment on specifics.

“Washoe County has absolutely no control or authority over the disposition of the buildings located on the Incline Lakes property,” Doolittle said. “Further, we have no authority over the land sale, the future of the existing buildings, the timing of the acquisition, or the property appraisal.”

Others feel the buildings are in immediate jeopardy.

“I have information on demolition from (my) stepmother Janice MacClean who gutted her house and was told demolition would be started this week,” Michael MacLean said. “She said the forest service was clear that they would not accept it with buildings.”

Total commitment

Ensign officials in the past year have suggested the senator’s unwavering support for the project, perhaps re-affirmed this week by IVGID officials:

“We’re totally committed to the project happening, it’s important to the community,” IVGID public works director St. John said. “We hope the issues will be successfully resolved by all parties in regards to the appraisal.”


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