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Why legislators like land-swaps

Deals similar to Cemex proposal before 122th Congress have set successful precedents, officials say

Posted: February 20, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 20, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

When the Cemex land-swap bill goes before the 112th Congress, Washington legislators can look west to Nevada or Virginia for proof that similar bills adopted more than 10 years ago continue to work effectively, according to public officials reached in those states.

In Virginia, legislators will see how Public Act 100-647 is helping preserve not only the Manassas National Battlefield Park, but also the nation’s Civil War Trust.

In Nevada, they’ll see how the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act continues to fund projects — from affordable housing to park creation — after its adoption more than a decade ago.

Public officials from both states tell The Signal they see nothing but success stories emerging from the land deals enacted through special acts of Congress.

“We’ve had many years of successful programs come about because of this act,” said Jolynn Worley, spokeswoman for Nevada’s Bureau of Land Management.

Mining history
More than 10 years ago, Cemex purchased mining contracts from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to open a 56-million-ton sand and gravel mine in Soledad Canyon.

City planners and eastside residents concerned about air pollution, noise and excessive traffic through Soledad Canyon have been trying to convince Cemex to abandon its mining rights.

Since 2004, Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, has proposed congressional legislation to block Cemex’s planned mine by banning mining in Soledad Canyon.

In 2007, he reached a truce with Cemex, the cities of Santa Clarita and Victorville and the county of San Bernardino for a resolution he could bring to the House.

But each year, his proposals have failed.

In August, his bill was killed in the 111th Congress because, he was told, it violated House rules on recently enacted earmark legislation.

Since then, McKeon, Cemex officials and city of Santa Clarita planners have pinned their hopes for a legislative solution on a Senate bill drafted by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called The Soledad Canyon High Desert, California Public Lands Conservation and Management Act of 2010, which is expected to be reintroduced this congressional session.

Land-swap details
Michael Murphy is the intergovernmental relations officer for the city of Santa Clarita.

He’s hopeful the Boxer bill will pass, he said, since similar bills have already set a precedent.

While the Virginia and Nevada bills passed by Congress are not the same as Boxer’s Cemex bill, part of her larger bill, they operate with the same basic blueprint: Direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell federally owned land, deposit the money into an account and use that money to fund a specified project.

“One must keep in mind that all lands bills are different,” Murphy said. “Each one is tailored to address a specific site and a specific set of issues associated with the local conditions and situations  The Soledad Bill is an example of that type of effort.

“These bills all speak to different issues, but (they) provided a legislative template for use in various sections of the Soledad Canyon mining legislation,” Murphy said.

“There is not a situation that is exactly like the one we are attempting to address locally, but some of the concepts are similar,” he said. “Our goal was to utilize concepts that had been in prior federal legislation.”

Under the Boxer bill first introduced at the end of the last congressional session, if Cemex leaves Soledad Canyon, it will be compensated through the sale of three specific tracts of land north of Victorville and just west of Interstate-15.

The land is owned by the federal government, managed by the land bureau and deemed “surplus land” already identified as disposable.

The bill would direct the secretary of the interior to call for the sale of each of the three blocks of land, with the proceeds deposited into a Federal Treasury bank account set aside to pay the first contract holder, which is Cemex.

History preserved
When business interests in Virginia made plans to build a shopping mall on the doorstep of the historic Manassas battlefield, community officials turned to Congress for help.

In response, the 100th Congress passed the Manassas National Battlefield Park Amendments of 1988, thereby saving 600 specified acres of a historic site.

But it also spelled out compensation for affected property owners, including the land belonging to the shopping-mall planners.

Section 2, subsection B of the Manassas Act states: “The United States shall pay just compensation to the owners of any property taken pursuant to this paragraph and the full faith and credit of the United States is hereby pledged to the payment of any judgment entered against the United States with respect to the taking of such property.”

All parties came away from the deal happy.
“The greatest success of that legislation is having secured (600) acres for preservation,” said Ed Clark, director of the Manassas National Battlefield Park. “That is the lasting legacy of that legislation.”

Clark said the money appropriated through the act is still paying for critical studies of the park area after 12 years.

“That legislation brought battlefield preservation a great victory,” he said.

And, while preserving a battlefield and transplanting a gravel pit may seem completely different end games, the method of getting there is the same, Murphy said.

“Public Law 100-647, short title Manassas National Battlefield Park, had a section that canceled leases and exchanged those values for other federal assets, just as is envisioned in the Soledad Bill,” he said.

Nevada causes
In October 1998, The Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act became law.

It allows the Bureau of Land Management to sell public land within a specific boundary around Las Vegas, Nev.

The revenue derived from land sales is split between the state of Nevada General Education Fund, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and a special account available to the Secretary of the Interior.

“It entitles all counties and cities to nominate projects to be funded,” Worley said.

Proceeds of the Nevada land deal fund the creation of parks, pay for affordable housing and contribute to the purchase of environmentally sensitive land.

“Probably, the state of Nevada has had more legislation passed that contained a land exchange component than any other state,” Murphy said.

Other similar acts passed in Congress for Nevada include: the Ivanpah Valley Airport Public Lands Transfer Act; the Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act; and the White Pine County Conservation, Recreation and Development Act.

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