The designation of more than 700,000 acres in Lincoln and Nye counties as a national monument is not sitting well with two Nye County Commissioners.
Last week President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid announced creation of the Basin and Range National Monument in central Nevada.
The land will be preserved as a national monument under the Antiquities Act, which essentially stops economic activities such as mining and solar energy.
The action would also bar a possible rail passageway for nuclear waste shipments to the proposed Yucca Mountain repository.
After hearing the news late last week, Commissioner Frank Carbone said the designation also comes with a financial impact to Nye County.
“We just lost approximately 33 cents an acre of money that would come in through Payment in Lieu of Taxes funds because once that land became designated as a monument, that money no longer comes in,” Carbone said. “If it’s three hundred thousand acres of land we just lost something like 40,000 some odd-thousand dollars in income but that’s just a quick figure.”
Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said he didnât feel the designation would affect a rail corridor for the Yucca Mountain proposal.
“This is not a setback for Yucca Mountain because that’s just one of the transportation routes and that’s not the preferred route anyway because Nye County would prefer the northern route,” he said. “I know Harry Reid has tried a lot of ham-fisted ways to kill Yucca Mountain and to ignore the law.”
Schinhofen and Carbone were not the only public officials who were chagrined by the action.
Federal lawmakers voted for an amendment by freshman U.S. Rep. Cresent Hardy, who represents Nye County, to block federal money from being used for presidential proclamations creating monuments in several Western states. The bill still must pass in the Senate before it becomes a final bill later this year.
Hardy also had problems with how and when the designation was created last week as well as that no local input was sought.
“I feel strongly that the best management of our public lands comes only through methodical consideration and partnership across all levels of local, state and federal government,” he stated in a press release. “That’s why Iâm disappointed for the Nevadans who were left out of the process, including the commissioners of both counties affected, Lincoln and Nye.”
Gov. Brian Sandoval also voiced his displeasure regarding the lack of local input.
“Nevadans and our federal delegation have worked together for generations to conserve, protect and maintain our precious natural resources,” he said. “The Basin and Range Monument designation, however, bypassed Congress on a public lands issue in which Nevada and our entire delegation should have had a primary role in working collectively to build consensus as we have done successfully in the past.”
The issue has been a bone of contention between Republicans and Democrats for many years.
Democrats sought efforts to expand federal protections for western lands, while Republicans focused their efforts to stop federal protections. Proponents of the monument designation said the monuments provide a boost to the economy by attracting visitors and generating additional revenue and jobs for local communities in an industry that already generates billions in consumer spending.
The Basin and Range includes rock art dating back 4,000 years and serves as a major resource for archaeologists, historians and ecologists.
The designation also gives researchers the opportunity to learn about the areaâs earliest human inhabitants dating back more than 13,000 years as well as the early miners and ranchers in the 19th century.
Although Nevada was admitted into the union in 1864, Commissioner Carbone still had questions about the federal governmentâs role regarding Nevadaâs statehood.
“In this case, Nye County, Lincoln County and the state of Nevada seems to be owned by the federal government and they can do whatever they want,” Carbone said. “That is what our issue has been with the BLM, the Forestry Service and everything else that has to do with the federal government.”
Schinhofen, meanwhile, said a meeting scheduled in Washington, D.C. regarding Yucca Mountain licensing earlier this month, was postponed for a later date.
“The state has 229 contention points where they say (Yucca Mountain) is unsafe,” he said. “In September I will talk about a bill by the House of Representatives that will allow for the interim storage provided the licensing for Yucca Mountain moves forward so they can finally decide whether it is safe or not.”
The Antiquities Act was first used by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 to designate Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. Since then, 16 presidents have used this authority to protect unique natural and historic features in America, such as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients.