Washoe County and the cities of Reno and Sparks are developing a multi-faceted proposal that would designate certain federal lands within the southern part of the county for privatization and development. Proceeds from the sale of the lands would be spent to further develop regional infrastructure to include parks, trails, hazardous fuels reduction and the acquisition of environmentally sensitive lands. The trio of governmental entities and the Nevada Department of Wildlife held an open house on February 18 in the Reno Convention Center to present the proposal and answer questions.
Congress must approve the transfer of federal land and the designation of wilderness. To enable the tenants of the proposal, Washoe County and the cities of Reno and Sparks have been working together to draft a proposal that will eventually become a bill in Congress.
In addition to land disposals, the proposal assesses 12 Wilderness Study Areas in northern Washoe County. A Wilderness Study Area (WSA) is an area designated for further study to determine if it meets congressional criteria to be designated as a wilderness area. The study areas in Washoe County were originally established in 1991.
The new proposal recommends that parts of the study areas be designated as wilderness, some of the land be returned to public multi-use, and some designated as a National Conservation Areas.
This proposal process began in the late spring and early summer of 2016 when Washoe County, Reno and Sparks approved written resolutions to create a lands bill. Since then, plans have been developed, spurring complaints of a cloistered process and lack of public input.
Learn more at www.landsbill.org.
See a detailed interactive map of the image above here.
The Truckee Meadows Public Land Management Act is largely patterned after the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act (SNLPMA). The law allows for federal lands in southern Nevada to be recommended and sold when suitable for development. The money raised is used for conservation projects across the state. According to the BLM, parcels are jointly selected by local governments and the BLM. In 2018, 736.46 acres were sold for $96,305,640. In 2019, 814.84 acres were sold for $206,125,000.
There have been 18 rounds of SNLPMA funding. Washoe County has received money for 228 projects from hazardous fuels reductions to restoration of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout in the Tahoe Basin and large land consolidation purchases. Dave Solaro is the assistant Washoe County manager and said the Washoe County lands bill is modeled on SNPLMA.
“We’ve heard that it is very successful in Southern Nevada. The process, people seem to understand it, and it makes sense. It does some really good things for creating a revenue stream. A lot of lands up here have been purchased utilizing Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act funds. We have patterned this for all intents, very similar to the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act as far as nominating land, selling of land, what the dollars go to, how you go through that process. It’s successful down there. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”
Solaro was at the open house on Tuesday the 18th and explained that the state’s congressional delegation asked Washoe County and the cities to develop a federal lands bill.
Land that could be potentially sold off for development is a considerable distance from existing urban centers. Solaro said it’s important for residents to understand that the proposal is a look ahead to the year 2070 when as many as 1,000,000,000 people will live in the region, more than twice the current population.
To enable far-flung development works against the stated aims of the proposal, which includes the encouragement of infill and otherwise environmentally sustainable development patterns. The Ally asked Solaro about the contradiction.
“You’ve got to also remember that this is an act of Congress, and those don’t come along every day. So we’re trying to look forward into the future. We’re trying to make sure that at some point in the future, as those areas make sense for development or not, we don’t want to be hampered by having to try to figure out how to go back to Congress. We were trying to look forward 50 years into the future. I know that’s confusing to a lot of people.”
Based on public comments, citizens question whether regional water supplies can support a population greater than 600,000. Washoe County has distinctly poor air quality, especially during fire season and when inversions trap auto exhaust and other emissions in valleys. Using internal combustion engines to support auto-dependent development contributes to increased greenhouse gases emissions and poor air quality.
At the open house, concerned citizens huddled around large maps and engaged representatives from Washoe County, the cities of Reno and Sparks and the Nevada Department of Wildlife with questions about the proposal.
Spokespersons from the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) attended the open house and expressed opposition. Bob Fulkerson said the process of developing the proposal has been secretive and meant to discourage public participation and “amounts to nothing more than a federally sanctioned giveaway to real estate developers.”
Assistant county manager Solaro scoffed at the notion that the county and cities are doing the bidding of real estate interests at the cost of the environment.
The Ally asked Solaro to explain the process should a real estate developer wish to build on lands eligible for federal disposal.
“A person that would like to utilize a piece of land within that boundary will come to the local jurisdiction, so it’ll either be the City of Reno, City of Sparks or Washoe County. They’ll say, ‘hey, we’d like to utilize this land for this reason.’ We will say ‘okay, that seems to make sense for us.’ We will go ahead and nominate that to the federal government, i.e. the Bureau of Land Management because the majority of this land is under the Bureau of Land Management.
“They will look at it and do the full environmental review to make sure that they don’t have an area of environmental concern, to include NEPA, so they would say, ‘yes this makes sense,’ or ‘no, it doesn’t’ for these reasons. And if they say, no, then that parcel never gets sold. Or they say, yeah, this makes sense, looks good. There will be a public auction, and the land will go to the highest bidder at that point, for no less than fair market value. Fair market value will be determined by an appraisal.”
PLAN spokesperson Ian Bigley criticized the proposal as written for a lack of environmental accountability. Bigley said the cumulative environmental impacts of adding some 400,000 people to the region to live in auto-dependent developments north and east of Reno have not been fully considered.
“There is no cumulative environmental assessment. On the front end, they will not be looking into the environmental impacts of allowing for the opening of 100,000 acres to development. That will be done with individual parcels upon sale, so we’re not looking at the whole picture as far as water, as far as climate change.”
For Solaro, the cumulative effects will be addressed through the disposal process. He said all lands that are eligible for sale shall be vetted to the fullest extent of local, state and federal laws to include the involvement of the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Agency as well as the jurisdictions where the development is being proposed.
“Just because we nominate a property doesn’t mean it gets sold. There are a lot of things that are within that boundary, whether there are areas of critical environmental concern, i.e., there’s some petroglyphs that are currently already been designated as an area of environmental concern. We couldn’t sell that land off. That’s to be conserved.”
Much of the land that could be eligible for sale is hilly. Solaro said current local codes would prevent development on a lot of federal lands within the disposal line.
“Locally, we put some constraints within Washoe County and the City of Sparks. Right now you can’t develop on slopes greater than 30 percent. That’s a pretty steep slope, right? We’ve kept that within our process, so that is a constraint. You couldn’t sell a piece of BLM land with a 30 percent grade and go build upon it. So all of those types of constraints, just trying to make sure that we don’t give away so to speak, the nice outdoor area that we’ve got here. That’s a big piece of it, the quality of life.”
See a series of maps that show the proposed changes to the WSAs.
Washoe County currently administers 167,319 acres of wilderness. That includes areas like the Mount Rose Wilderness, the East Fork High Rock Canyon, High Rock Canyon and Little High Rock Canyon.
The Black Rock Desert/High Rock Canyon National Conservation Area was designated in 2000. The county says it currently has 383,848 acres of permanent conservation acreage within its boundaries and that the proposed revisions of the 12 Wilderness Study Areas will increase the total amount of land for conservation.
Since the Wilderness Study Areas were established in northern Washoe County in 1991, the areas have been assessed for their suitability to meet federal wilderness designation. In the proposal, what have been Wilderness Study Areas would become a mix of land uses. Some lands would be returned to public multi-use. Other parcels would be designated as National Conservation Areas. Portions of the former study areas will be designated as wilderness.
Solaro said the areas need to be accurately designated to reflect federal definitions and contemporary uses.
“We have our wilderness study areas in northern Washoe County, and it’s an opportunity for us to take those and define whether they’re actually wilderness or whether they should be released out of the study portion. Congress hasn’t acted since 1991. There’s a 1991 Record of Decision, and a lot of things have changed over the years.
“We’ve taken a group working with stakeholders in the area, from conservation to sportsman to landowners to grazing permittees, and talked about the merits of wilderness versus not wilderness and what some of those things are. So this is our proposal to the community.”
Under the Truckee Meadows Public Land Management Act, some 90,000 acres would be eligible for “disposal.” Revenue from the sale of these federal lands would be divided thus:
- 5 percent for the State of Nevada General Education Fund
- 10 percent for local governments
- 85 percent for a special account available to the Secretary of the Treasury
The Ally asked Dan Solaro about transparency in the process.
“I am sure people have seen it as starts and stops, but we’ve been continually gathering public input even since 2016. And just because it hasn’t gone anywhere, doesn’t mean we’ve thrown out all of that good comment we’ve gotten.
“So we’ve gotten everybody together. The City of Reno, City of Sparks and Washoe County have decided, yes, now’s the time to move forward again. So we’re trying to be as transparent as we can through the website www.landsbill.org. The site has all the information, not only our proposal, but all the counter proposals we’ve gotten. It’s got areas for people to leave their comments. We really want to bring in that information so that we can make an informed decision.”