Tug-of-war continues over Dreyfus estate
A Nevada senator’s decision to prohibit the demolition of the Dreyfus Estate has ruffled some feathers here and given others renewed hope of putting the building to use as a nonprofit or business.
Sen. John Ensign’s move to block demolition is the first opposition the U.S. Forest Service has heard from a member of the government, despite longstanding communication with county and state officials on the issue, according to the agency.
After dialogue with county officials and legislators before a decision was made, “We did not receive any specific objection to the removal of the building as one of the options,” said Rex Norman, spokesperson for the Forest Service in Tahoe.
After 1 1/2 years of soliciting public comment and four months of soliciting business plans, one year was spent reviewing five proposed projects.
Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson announced in March the agency saw no viable options for use of the building that would sustain a 20-year lease, so it would be torn down.
“That (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis could have begun in 2001, but the Forest Supervisor chose to wait, and seek ideas from outside the agency,” Norman said.
The senator’s office has said the decision was made too quickly.
“Our interpretation of events was that the decision was made very quickly by an outgoing person,” said Jack Finn, spokesperson for Ensign, R-Nev. Gustafson moved to a job in Colorado shortly after the March announcement.
The demolition is only delayed a year because the bill only applies to budget year 2006.
“A one-year waiting period is a good idea regardless,” Finn said.
Finn would not say whether Ensign discussed the issue with the Forest Service after March, only saying the senator discussed the issue with the public.
The Sierra Club supported demolition of the mansion, which lies on 81 acres with three-quarters mile of lakeshore near Zephyr Cove Marina, in order to return it to its natural state and allow public access.
“It was not a quick decision and the process was open and clear and should be abided by,” said Michael Donahoe, conservation co-chair of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club. He acknowledged Ensign’s popularity at the lake but didn’t understand his micromanagement of this issue.
Julie Nelson, who hoped to establish a nonprofit at the site, said the senator’s move gave her renewed hope, but she’s a little frustrated now because she’s seen nothing done to move forward on finding a use for the building.
“I was just looking for ways that the property could be utilized, and looking for things that wouldn’t draw large crowds at a time,” Nelson said.
Nelson said she spoke with Douglas County Commissioner Tim Smith and South Lake Tahoe City Councilman John Upton on the issue.
Smith said he did not instigate the delay, but in fact was contacted by the senator’s office. The county is interested in possibilities for the site, but has not had the chance to evaluate alternatives to demolition.
“We’re just trying to buy some time,” Smith said.
Upton sponsored a resolution at the latest city council meeting voicing support for the Forest Service extending the process. He said four months was not enough time to come up with a proposal for a lease on the building.
“I don’t consider that an adequate effort,” Upton said. “I’m amazed that tearing the house down is even on the radar scope.”
“Part of Sen. Ensign’s delay is a demand to open the process up again,” he said, “and if at the end of the day, the Forest Service doesn’t want to do it, then maybe some other agency would be a more appropriate owner of the property, such as Douglas County or Nevada State Parks.”
In a press statement two weeks ago, the senator said taxpayer money would be better spent on fire prevention, but the Forest Service contends demolition could cost next to nothing.
“The value of the material on site would pay for the removal by a contractor,” Norman said. On the other hand, $2 million to $3 million would be needed in taxpayer money to bring the site up to code to host a business, according to Norman.
The majority of calls to the Forest Service after the March decision came from contractors hoping to get the demolition contract, Norman said. Before March, most comments supported demolition, he said.
In the meantime, the agency has received a few more ideas on how the mansion could be put to use.
“One call came from a car collectors’ club, another wanting to purchase the property to turn it into a therapeutic center and a third was informing us – not asking – that it would become an evangelical broadcasting center,” Norman said.
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