copyright © 1996, Electric Nevada
|Las Vegas -- Still apparently uncertain of where it may lead them, spokesmen for U.S. Representative John Ensign (R-NV) said the congressman's Natural Resources Committee was to hear from the Bureau of Land Management Inspector General last week and follow that up in September with public testimony on questionable trades of federal property in Las Vegas for "environmentally sensitive" lands elsewhere.|
officials of the federal lands agency have already
brushed aside implications of a draft audit report as a
mere "bookkeeping error" that made it seem
taxpayers lost at least $12 million on just a few swaps
in recent years.
The BLM spokesman in Las Vegas said the final audit report of the Inspector General would support his office, and he hinted at an internal investigation to find out who "leaked" the misleading draft report.
In the meantime, exchanges of potentially lucrative Vegas acres for de-watered former farm land in northern Nevada were apparently going ahead, with the help of the Nature Conservancy, which is brokering several deals for Arizona and Las Vegas developer Del Webb Corporation.
Despite BLM denials of any mishandling of public trust, the hearings are regarded by some experts as having the potential for opening a full-blown Congressional investigation of such BLM bargain trading that appears to benefit gaming and development interests under the pretext of "saving" lesser-valued land for the good of the environment.
In the case of the Del Webb swaps, that's formerly irrigated farm land which the Conservancy in intends to dry up by turning the water rights over to wetlands restoration at the desert sink terminus of the Carson River. In return, the BLM hands out pieces of federal property near the Sky Harbor airport in Las Vegas that Del Webb wants for development.
Former BLM Chief Appraiser Charles Hancock has estimated that similar such deals over the past decade have shortchanged taxpayers by as much as $150 million in profits the government could have received by offering the Las Vegas land for competitive bidding.
So far, Hancock, who was in charge of appraisals on all federal land in Nevada up until his retirement in 1989, has not been invited to testify. In fact, Hancock has been ignored and told he has "no standing" in at least a dozen protests to federal land exchanges he has filed since leaving the bureaucracy.
"At least it would be nice to win one," he said hopefully last week after touring wasted farm land near the old town of Stillwater that the Nature Conservancy has already brokered for Del Webb.
If there is potential in the hearings for slowing down the dubious dealing on Lahontan Valley farmlands, however, it seemed to carry no urgency to The Nature Conservancy and its Fallon operative, Graham Chisholm, who recently took out display ads in the Fallon newspaper offering to buy water rights on the Carson from any "willing sellers" ready to part with them.
Chisholm and TNC are now presenting themselves as representatives of the state of Nevada in returning former community pasturelands to wetlands. No mention was made in the ad of TNC's past or present financial relationship with the Del Webb Corp.
But the "willing
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sellers" Chisholm seeks in the
Lahontan Valley are fully aware that the only buyers
available for their land or water are the Conservancy and
its financial partners acting indirectly on behalf of the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the BLM itself.
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