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Goicoechea plans to introduce public lands transfer bill

State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said he was stunned the chairman of the Nevada interim committee on public lands wouldn’t hold a discussion on a report by a panel commissioned to research the transfer of public lands from the federal government to the state of Nevada, during a work session late last month.

Goicoechea said the interim committee accepted the report, but wouldn’t pass a resolution of support. He plans to introduce a resolution himself asking Congress to introduce a bill to transfer some federal lands, during the regular session of the Nevada Legislature that convenes in February.

Assembly Bill 227 passed in the 2013 session set up a panel that was to prepare a report for the 2015 Legislature, consisting of one representative from each of Nevada’s 17 counties, to research the transfer of some of the 87.6 percent of the state that’s under federal ownership.

The task force held 10 meetings at locations around the state.

The final report, issued Aug. 1, suggested excluding lands administered by the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service.

Lands identified by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as suitable for disposal, those under BLM recreation and public purpose leases, those authorized under rights-of-way, solar energy zones, lands leased for geothermal exploration and lands authorized for disposal in federal legislation would be the first priority for transfer to the state.

Other BLM lands and, forest service lands should be considered in subsequent phases, along with land deemed to be surplus by the Bureau of Reclamation.

The report noted the BLM alone manages 47.8 million acres in Nevada. The report said the state could derive revenues of $7.78 to $28.59 per acre, which assuming 7.2 million acres were transferred in phase I, could translate into net revenues between $56 million and $205 million annually.

Goicoechea, who is a rancher in Central Nevada, said though the chairman of the interim public lands committee of the Legislature, Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, took the resolution urging Congress to enact legislation off the table for discussion during the work session Aug. 28, that doesn’t mean the task force proposal is dead.

“I don’t mind saying I was caught completely flat-footed. I didn’t anticipate that in any shape or form. Nobody really knows who brought what pressure on who because the committee definitely supported the resolution. There was a big argument in the committee hearing that we had the votes to force it and it even came down to legal counsel saying in the regular session if you have two-thirds of the committee in favor of a bill you can force the chairman to consider it,” Goicoechea said.

“I put in a bill draft request with the same language, same resolution and I’ll bring it through the session. I would’ve preferred it would’ve been a committee, a committee introduction out of a standing committee, instead of from a legislator,” he said.

Aizley used his authority as chairman of the interim committee and said he wouldn’t take the measure up for discussion, saying the state wasn’t ready for such legislation.

“I have thanked the committee for the work they have done — they have raised many, many issues — but I don’t see the solutions to go along with it,” Aizley said.

Among those issues were the transfer of federal employees to the state and the cost of fire suppression, which Aizley said cost the federal government $57 million in 2013.

“We don’t have $57 million to do that,” he said. “Those are two that are fairly persuasive to me.”

Goicoechea said the transfer only involves about 10 percent of the federal lands and would require a maximum of $5 million in fire suppression costs.

State Capitol Bureau reporter Sean Whaley contributed to this report.

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