Washoe Lands Bill To Expand Reno, Sparks Draws Concerns

Nov 30, 2018

Washoe County has proposed a public lands bill that could open up 180,000 acres of federal land north of Reno and Sparks for private sale. The goal is to free up land for developing affordable housing and create a source of revenue for the county.

Washoe County General Affairs Manager Jamie Rodriguez says likely only about 60,000 acres — or 94 square miles— within the disposal boundary would actually be fit for development. That’s because some of the land is too steep to build on or includes sage grouse habitat.

If the resolution passes, here’s a breakdown of how it would work:

Where’s the land?

The approximately 280 square miles of federal land lies mostly north and east of Reno. The current disposal boundary drawn by the county encompasses federal land the county is proposing to eventually be put up for sale. The eastern edge of the boundary runs along the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe land and the eastern boundary is close to California (map).

Would all the land be sold at once? 

Not likely. There are many more steps in the process— and the resolution could change shape along the way.

The county says it’s envisioning this proposal as a 50-year plan for Reno’s growth. To move forward, first the resolution has to pass the Washoe County Commissioners, as well as Reno and Sparks. This vote wouldn’t likely happen until next year, and there’s still time for public comment

Then, the county forwards the resolution to Nevada’s delegation, who writes up a bill they would have to usher through Congress. Only Congress can legislate changes to federal land.

If the federal legislation passes, the federal land becomes eligible for private sale. Washoe County can then petition the BLM to open up those acreages for sale.

Before any sale could be negotiated, each parcel would have to go through an environmental and cultural assessment, as outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act. Then, and only then, would the land be sold to a private developer.

Where does the money from the land sale go?

The bulk of the proceeds from any lands sales —85 percent— within the disposal boundary would go to the Nevada BLM. That money could be used for purchasing other land to create parks, work on drought mitigation and wildlife prevention, and other conservation efforts. Ten percent of the proceeds would be paid directly to the county. The remaining 5 percent would go to the state for education.

What has been people’s response overall to the proposal?

This resolution encompasses a vast land area, so most reactions involve specific concerns about a particular land parcel.  

For example, the environmental group Friends of Nevada Wilderness is concerned that the popular hiking and camping recreation area, Moon Rocks, is currently included in the disposal boundary. The group is also concerned about the potential sale of land northwest of Reno near Petersen Mountain, as it’s critical winter habitat for mule deer.

The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe has also been quite involved in the public planning process. Vice Chairman Alan Mandell said the tribe is concerned that if land north and east of Reno is developed, there will be more pollution of the Truckee River, which flows through tribal land and into Pyramid Lake. He says the tribe has requested that the county put some funds from the land sale toward river cleanup.

Mandell added that the tribe also doesn't want to see parts of the White Hills and the Pah Rah Range sold privately for development. These lands have archeological value and include some historic tribal items, and the tribe would like to acquire it. Some of that land was originally going to be deeded to the tribe as part of the Nevada Native Nations Land Act, but for political reasons it was excluded. 

Washoe County, Reno and Sparks will likely vote on the resolution sometime early next year.

Read about how the resolution would affect Washoe's wilderness areas.