WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., introduced the Nevada Mining Townsite Conveyance Act Tuesday, legislation streamlining the property conveyance process for Nevadans in communities like Gold Point in Esmeralda County and Ione in remote northwest Nye County.
The legislation, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., resolves decades-old property disputes between the federal government and local residents in Storey, Nye and Esmeralda counties. But there have been at least five bills introduced in previous sessions that languished in committees.
“For decades, residents in Gold Point, Gold Hill, Ione, and Virginia City have faced the uncertainty of not knowing whether their lawful purchases and transfers gave them all of the rights inherent in ownership of real property,” said Heller. “This legislation clears up discrepancies involved with the Bureau of Land Management’s inconsistent and conflicting policies serving as a source of confusion for all parties involved. The act forces the Bureau of Land Management to resolve property rights disputes between the federal government and local residents. Thereafter, these lands can be conveyed to counties and ultimately transferred to long-term residents of the area. Coupling efficiency and effectiveness with this legislation will resolve these title disputes ensuring those who have been legally living on their land and paying taxes receive the resolution they deserve.”
The bill states the federal government owns real property in and around the historic mining town sites upon which residents have been living for decades. While the property is under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior. The real property has been occupied for decades by individuals who bought the property, but their continued residence constitutes a trespass. As a result of the conflicting ownership claims, the property is difficult to manage and creates a continuing source of friction with local residents, the bill states.
By mining townsite the bill refers to real property in Gold Point, Ione and the Storey County communities of Gold Hill and Virginia City that are owned by the federal government, where improvements were constructed based on the belief the property had been or would be acquired from the federal government or mine owners and where the individual or entity had a valid claim for acquiring the property.
The bill requires the Secretary of the Interior as soon as practical after passage of the act to carry out an expedited program to examine each unpatented mining claim within each townsite. After validating the claim and subject to the agreement by the county, the Secretary of the Interior shall convey to the counties the title to the mining townsites, the county in turn will reconvey the property to the people on the deed.
The mining townsites being conveyed will be surveyed. The bill asks for the conveyances to be completed not later than 18 months after the enactment of the act.
The latest bill is one of a handful introduced to deal with the problem that didn’t go anywhere in Congress.
• On June 5, 2003, former U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons introduced House Resolution 2367 which was referred to the House Resources Committee, executive comment was requested from the Department of the Interior but no further action was taken. This bill would have required a person to have occupied the townsite for at least 15 years for a claim to be valid. It provided for the protection of historic and cultural resources.
• Reid introduced Senate Bill 2458 on May 20, 2004, which was referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources but went no further.
• A mining townsite conveyance act was introduced again by Reid and Gibbons in November 2005, which were assigned to committees and died there.
• After a five-year hiatus, a township conveyance bill was introduced again May 25, 2010 by Reid and then U.S. Rep. Dean Heller, again neither bill got out of committee.
• U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., introduced House Resolution 6497 in September 2012, there was no companion bill in the Senate and this bill never made it out of committee.
“It is has been difficult to pass any land bills the past few Congresses because of opposition from Republicans. Republicans in Nevada agree these bills would be good for the state but Republicans from out of state do not agree and block them from moving forward,” said Kristin Orthman, a spokesperson for Reid.