U.S. to auction public land in Nevada State gets bulk of proceeds rather than the Treasury

October 25, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CARSON CITY, Nev. -- The federal government is preparing to auction 27,000 acres of public land near Las Vegas estimated to be worth $500 million to $1 billion, with almost all of the proceeds to stay in Nevada instead of going to the Treasury.

Like many cities in the West, Las Vegas is surrounded by public land managed by the Interior Department. The Bureau of Land Management has designated 55,000 acres of desert within a 460-square-mile zone around the city for disposal to developers and local governments.

The government has been reluctant to sell public land in the past because the proceeds went to the Treasury and neither the Interior Department nor Nevada gained anything. Previously, the government traded developable public land near Las Vegas to developers in exchange for environmentally sensitive private land elsewhere in Nevada.

But these exchanges have become mired in controversy, with federal audits finding that the government received far less than equal value in many exchanges. Rep. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, has said the government lost nearly $40 million in the past two years in land trades with developers.

Now, under a bill enacted by Congress and signed by President Clinton, the government will sell the public land at auction. TTC Eighty-five percent of the proceeds will go to acquire environmentally sensitive private land in Nevada and to improve parks and recreation areas around Las Vegas, 10 percent to the Southern Nevada Water Authority to build drinking-water pipelines, and 5 percent to schools in Nevada.

The Las Vegas office of the Bureau of Land Management is fielding calls from potential bidders, said a public affairs officer, Phillip Guerrero. But the bureau must first consult with Clark County and the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson to determine which lands should be sold and which lands the local governments need for roads, flood-control projects, schools, police and fire stations, and parks.

Under the legislation, the airport authority in Las Vegas will acquire about 5,000 acres in its noise-abatement area at no cost. Local governments can acquire parks and rights of way for water, sewage and flood-control projects at no cost. More than 20,000 acres are expected to be sold to local governments for $10 an acre for other purposes.

As much as 27,000 acres of public land is expected to be auctioned to developers at prices of $18,000 to $37,000 per acre. The land will be sold in parcels of five to 2,500 acres. Each parcel will be offered with minimum bids set by a government-approved appraiser.

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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