Ray Hagar, RGJ 6:56 p.m. PST December 10, 2014
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., predicted Wednesday that eight Nevada lands bills included in the nation’s primary spending bill for the Department of Defense will pass the U.S. Senate by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, Nevada’s junior Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., made a 10-minute speech on the Senate floor Wednesday pushing for the inclusion of the eight bills into the National Defense Authorization Act. Together, the eight land bills would transfer a total of 130,000 acres of federal lands in Nevada to local governments or made into wilderness areas.
Heller emphasized that the land transfers would create jobs across the state.
“This will spur economic development and job creation in our state while enhancing U.S. national security,” Heller told his colleagues.
One of the transfers deals with federal land that surrounds the Nevada Copper mining operation in Yerington. Passage of that bill would jump-start open-pit mining at the Pumpkin Hollow site near Yerington and lead to the growth of 1,200 mining and construction jobs that pay an average of $85,000 — plus about 1,800 ancillary jobs, studies have shown.
Many of the ancillary jobs and those directly connected to the mining operation will be centered in the Reno-Sparks area, Nevada Copper officials said.
“It’s huge for Reno,” Nevada Copper’s Tim Dyhr said. “A large portion of our support, contractors and suppliers are coming out of Reno. But we are also getting materials out of Winnemucca, out of Elko.
“Nevada Cement is another example,” Dyhr said of the regional economic impact of the Nevada Copper open-pit expansion. “Nevada Cement out of Fernley is supplying all of the cement for the project.”
Other Washoe County companies doing business with the mine include Granite Construction of Sparks, Western Nevada Supply of Sparks, Komatsu Equipment (large trucks) of Reno, PDM Steel of Sparks and Northern Nevada Rebar of Reno.
“We use so many vendors out of the Reno area,” Dyhr said. “And a lot of them are the smaller vendors. They are all coming from somewhere in Northern Nevada.”
The land bills, which include projects in Northern and Southern Nevada, will need 60 votes in the Senate to both end debate on the bill and bring the bill to a vote on the Senate floor, Reid said. The bill has already passed the House of Representatives.
“Passage only takes 50 votes (with 100 U.S. Senators) but we’ll need 60 votes on cloture (ending the debate) and 60 votes on a budget point-of-order that they’ll raise,” Reid said.
“We have some procedures to follow but it (passage) could happen as late as Friday or Saturday,” Reid said. “Senate time is never definite, but this is going to happen. We are going to pass that bill, OK? We’ll pass it.”
Heller stressed to Senate colleagues that the importance of copper to national defense, calling it “the second-most used mineral at the Department of Defense.”
He noted that the land package also has a direct impact on Nellis Air Force Base in Clark County and the Naval Air Station in Fallon.
Reid agreed, saying “there is a lot of good stuff in there for the military.”
Yet Reid was highly critical of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., for holding up many of the land transfers for years. Heller noted he has worked on many of the proposals for the six years he’s been a senator and congressman from Nevada.
“Dr. Coburn (he is a medical doctor), who is leaving the Senate at the end of this year, has for 10 years held up hundreds, hundreds of these land bills,” Reid said. “Personally, he’s held them up. So Democrats and Republicans sat down and they have been working for months and they are tired of it (Coburn’s blocking tactics). He’s held up naming of parks and stuff that doesn’t matter. But this stuff is very substantive. It is really important piece of legislation, especially for public-land states.”
Coburn’s representative could not be reached by phone Wednesday evening.
Yerington is not the only Northern Nevada municipality that has a stake in the passage of the Department of Defense funding bill.
Fernley would be able to purchase about 9,000 acres of federal land within its boundaries. The land would be earmarked for commercial and industrial development.
Elko would 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 — would receive about 1,000 acres of federal land to be used for economic development.
The Naval Air Station near Fallon would 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 would 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.
“These properties have been occupied for decades by individuals who purchased them or acquired them legally, yet their continued residency is trespassing, according to the federal government,” Heller said on the Senate floor.
Also, the bill would establish the Pine Forest Wilderness Area near Winnemucca while directing land exchanges between the Bureau of Land Management and local ranchers. The transfers is expected to improve the economic prospects of those privately owned ranches.
In Southern Nevada, the bill would 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 would also allow federal land transfers to benefit Great Basin College in Pahrump, the College of Southern Nevada and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.