Legislation introduced by Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV-03) today passed the House of Representatives and now moves to the United States Senate for further consideration. H.R. 2745, Amending the Mesquite Lands Act of 1986, extends the deadline for the city of Mesquite to purchase federal lands surrounding the city and also amends current law so that proceeds from the sale of previously-purchased federal lands can be used to implement a multispecies habitat conservation plan for the Virgin River in Clark County, Nevada.
"The city of Mesquite is expanding and surrounded by federal lands, yet due to severe economic conditions in southern Nevada, has not been in the position to acquire additional lands for economic development," Rep. Heck said. "This legislation extends the deadline for the purchase of those lands so that as the economy improves, Mesquite will be able to continue its positive growth. Future land sales in Mesquite will result in job creation opportunities and improve the economy of southern Nevada."
Rep. Heck continued, "Additionally, the bill amends current law to allow for the implementation of the Habitat Conservation and Recovery Plan and the Hydrologic Monitoring and Mitigation Plan, originally required in a 1999 law."
"I congratulate my colleague from southern Nevada and the people of Mesquite for exercising the right to determine their own economic future," said Rep. Mark Amodei (NV- 2). "I think any time Nevadans anywhere can shed the wet blanket of Washington-based control to improve our communities is a victory for the entire Silver State."
Rep. Heck introduced the Mesquite lands bill in August of 2011 and in December the bill had a hearing before the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. Rep. Heck testified before the committee on the merits of the bill and his remarks can be found here. Congressman Mark Amodei, who serves on the Committee on Natural Resources, was an original co-sponsor of the Mesquite lands bill. United States Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
Land Purchase Deadline Extension:
The legislation gives Mesquite the exclusive right to purchase, at fair market value, the land identified in the Mesquite Lands Act from the Bureau of Land Management for a period of 12 years from the date of enactment of the Land Act. Due to the severe economic conditions that continue to plague southern Nevada and a delay of the Environmental Impact Statement for an airport site, the City has not been in a position to purchase the final sections of property at this time and, therefore, was not be able to make the deadline. Rep. Heck's bill would extend the land purchase deadline until November 29, 2020.
Habitat Conservation and Recovery Plan and Hydrologic Monitoring and Mitigation Plan Implementation:
In 2002, the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Mesquite Lands Act Biological Opinion to the BLM which required certain terms and conditions associated with federal land sale. A key term contained in the Biological Opinion is a mandate that the City participate in the development and implementation of a Habitat Conservation and Recovery Plan (VRHCRP) and a Hydrologic Monitoring and Mitigation Plan (HMMP) along the Virgin River. In response to the Mesquite Lands Act Biological Opinion, Congress made a technical amendment to the Act within the Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002 that set aside a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each parcel for the "development" of the Recovery Plan and the Hydrologic Monitoring and Mitigation Plan. It is apparent that, during this process, language allowing for the "implementation" of these plans was inadvertently omitted from this amendment. Rep. Heck's bill is consistent with other land bills that require funds to be used for both development and implementation of habitat conservation plans.