INTRO: A unique program in Southern Nevada has the BLM selling land to benefit environmental projects in the state. Yesterday the Department of the Interior announced that Nevada will get more money for parks and recreation than all other states combined because of that program. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports.
PLASKON: The Heart of Las Vegas, the Springs Preserve that gave birth to the desert city 99 years ago has been closed to the public. But yesterday local legislators to a Bush Administration officials huddled under a white tent in the sun there and celebrated that this heart would soon be open.
SOUND: Place SOUND: Clapping
PLASKON: This 127 acre preserve, now a though fare for sewage will get 26 million dollars to create a nesting ground for birds, public trail systems, desert garden collection center, amphitheater, and botanical gardens by Spring 2006. The money to make it possible is a small part of nearly a half billion dollars worth of spending approved yesterday on 20 park and recreation projects in Southern Nevada. 37 million is headed for Lake Tahoe. But most of the half billion will be spent in southern Nevada. Among the most major expenditures is a 15 million dollars park for shooting guns. County Manager Tom Reilly says that there was no money for building a shooting park before, but the community thought it was important
REILLY: There is a pretty lengthy process that prioritizes the needed priorities. There is a huge list and those that are in most need are the ones that are selected.
PLASKON: The half billion-dollar allocation is the latest in a series of rounds that has provided more than a billion dollars to Nevada since the BLM started selling land here in 1998. Other communities have been watching and asking the Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton to expand the program to their counties.
NORTON: There are some places where people have talked about where they would like to have a new visitor center and they would like to have but it would be on a much smaller scale.
PLASKON: It would take congressional action before federal land elsewhere can be sold. Father of the Nevada's public land sale legislation, Senator John Ensign thinks it's a good idea with the right approach.
ENSIGN: It does make sense when the local developers all sit down like they do in white pine county like we are doing in Lincoln County. If you try to do it with a broad brush you are going to ruin the legacy of this legislation.
PLASKON: But the money from selling the public's land could be used for the wrong thing worries. Executive Director of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope Sierra Club.
ENSIGN: I think it is a good idea in concept, but there was a promise made. I have looked at the numbers, I think that that money is being used to pay for the federal deficit and it is exactly what they have done with the water conservation fund. I think Nevada is the victim of a bait and switch here.
PLASKON: Pope was surprise and pleased to hear that Nevada isn't the victim of a bait and switch, that the Secretary of the Interior was here to announce that Nevada would get millions from the sale of its lands. Ensign knew the danger when he wrote the legislation.
ENSIGN: That pot of money is always in danger and we have to be very careful that people don't try to rob that pot of money and that is why we work very hard on how exactly that money is being spent.
PLASKON: Ensign's office is working with the counties of White Pine, Douglass, Lincoln and Lander to author similar land sale legislation.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR