Legislation that will allow for the transfer of more than 130,000 acres of federal land in Nevada to state or local control cleared its final hurdle in Congress Friday.
And that could mean jobs — lots of them.
The centerpiece of the deal is the Yerington land transfer, which will transfer 10,400 acres of land near the Nevada Copper mine to the City of Yerington for uses as an industrial area, business park, outdoor amphitheater and room for businesses that will be adjacent to the mine. It will also jump-start Nevada Copper’s open-pit mining phase at the Pumpkin Hollow site near Yerington.
In all, the Yerington land transfer will lead to 1,200 mining and construction jobs at the mine and 1,800 more ancillary jobs, with many of those sprouting up in the Reno-Sparks area, according to studies by Nevada Copper.
The 3,000 jobs expected to be produced by the mining operation is not as large as the 6,500 expected at the Tesla Motors battery gigafactory near Reno. Yet taken together, they promise a major upswing in the economy and population of Northern Nevada.
“These projects in Lyon County and Tesla in Washoe County, taken together are a real major deal,” Yerington Mayor George Dini said. “You are taking about 30,000 plus people moving to this region with that kind of job count. This will be a major program, combining them both together in the same region.”
A long road to passage
The land bills, which were attached to the U.S. Department of Defense’s major spending bill, is the largest single land-transfer in Nevada “in a long time,” according to the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Many of the bills had been languishing in Congress for as long as six years. Attaching them to the National Defense Authorization Act was perhaps the safest and only way to get them through a senate chamber where transfers of federal lands in western states have languished for years, members of Nevada’s federal delegation said.
“If you would have told me the only way to get these passed was to put them in a defense authorization bill, I would have said, ‘Huh?’ ” said U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City. “But after this, hey, it is fine with me.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Nevada’s junior senator, Dean Heller, R-Nev., pushed the lands package as a vehicle for job creation in Nevada.
Good news, but at a cost
Lyon County has been Nevada most economically depressed county in Nevada during the recession. Yerington, the Lyon County seat, has seen its economy and population shrink over the last decade.
Now, the town has the potential to boom again.
“For the last several years, we have been declining in population as well as economic activity in the valley so this is a big step forward for us,” Dini said.
“You have to have a flagship operation like Nevada Copper that brings in all of the rest of the goodies,” said Dini, son of the revered former Assembly Speaker Joe Dini. “That includes property taxes, new homes.
“There will be a snowball effect,” Dini said. “It is not going to happen overnight. There is still a lot of groundwork to be done. A lot of development agreements have to be figured out and finalized. But I’m sure there will be new investors in the (Mason) Valley. In new housing alone, I would expect a couple of hundred houses to go up in the next couple of years.”
The expansion of the Nevada Copper mining operation and the construction of the Tesla gigafactory will put a strain on the region for the upcoming years, Dini said.
“What you are going to find is a Catch 22,” Dini said. “It will be hard to find construction people. Goods and services will be at a premium for awhile. This is not going to happen overnight, though. Neither one of these projects are going to bring in that high number of jobs over night. You have to grow into it. Development of a copper mine takes a lot of time but it takes people to help get it done, so that is the good news.”
Other land transfers in the deal
Yerington is not the only Northern Nevada municipality that will benefit from land transfer deal.
Now, Fernley will be able to purchase about 9,000 acres of federal land within its boundaries. The land will be earmarked for commercial and industrial development.
Elko will receive about 300 acres of federal land for a motocross park and to provide housing for the Elko Band of the Te-Moak Tribe for housing.
Carlin — in Elko County — will receive about 1,000 acres of federal land to be used for economic development.
The Naval Air Station near Fallon will receive 400 acres of federal land for a buffer zone for explosives testing and housing for military at the base.
A long-standing issue in Storey County will be resolved by the transfer of 1,700 acres of federal land to Virginia City, ending a long-standing dispute that has put private-property rights in question.
Also, the bill will establish the Pine Forest Wilderness Area near Winnemucca while directing land exchanges between the Bureau of Land Management and local ranchers. The transfers are expected to improve the economic prospects of those privately owned ranches.
In Southern Nevada, the bill will establish Nevada’s first national monument at the Tule Springs fossil beds, expand Nellis Air Force Base and create the Nellis Off-Highway Vehicles Park.
It will also allow federal land transfers to benefit Great Basin College in Pahrump, the College of Southern Nevada and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.