As reported recently in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Sen. Harry Reid quietly, in mid-September, introduced a bill aimed at limiting mining and energy exploration on a huge section of land in Garden and Coal Valleys.

His thinking is to preserve scenic valleys and create a buffer area for a landmark piece of desert artwork.

Reporters Steven Tetreault and Henry Brean noted in their article, the bill, “would withdraw 805,100 acres of federal land in Garden Valley and Coal Valley straddling the Lincoln and Nye county lines, a desolate area bigger than the state of Rhode Island. The restrictions would not affect current valid land use such as grazing, but it would forbid the Bureau of Land Management from selling any land or granting permits for oil or mineral prospecting. Activities for new geothermal, solar or wind energy development also would be restricted.”

In addition, the article stated, “The bill would ensure the most significant feature in the 1,250-square-mile area would be “City,” one of the largest earth sculptures ever created. It is roughly the size of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and has taken its creator, noted artist Michael Heizer, more than 40 years to craft.”

Some conservationists say the withdrawal will also provide protection to landscapes, habitat for mule deer and Pronghorn antelopes, along with rock shelters and ancient Shoshone and Paiute trails.

However, Lincoln County Commissioners say they strongly oppose what chairman Ed Higbee has called Harry Reid’s “attempted land grab.”

The board approved in its Nov. 10 regular meeting sending a letter of opposition to Sen. Reid’s office.

The letter reads in part, “It is the County’s position that potential congressional designation on federally managed lands should begin and be developed from a local perspective, with input from the affected local and regional stakeholders. In the case of the above mentioned proposed legislation (Garden Valley Withdrawal Act, S. 2820), this “grass roots” input has not occurred.”

Higbee explained, “On any discussions pertaining to this, we would like to be at the table.”

The commission letter notes the 805,100 acres, “is expansive and not limited to Garden Valley, but in fact encompasses portions of several other large valleys, mountain ranges, and watersheds in both Lincoln and Nye Counties… It is short-sighted and severely limits long-term, sustainable, beneficial and balanced use and management of the land.”

Another section of the letter states, “The majority of the land in the proposed legislation has the potential for some level of resource development and utilization. The County supports efforts to both develop resources where appropriate while protecting or conserving resources where needed. The proposed legislation goes far beyond what is necessary for the protection of select resources and fails to account for the benefits of the development and utilization of other sustainable resources in this area.”

Higbee later said this would have an affect on the Lincoln County Water District, which has filings up in that area, “and if it went into a national conservation area, I highly doubt they would let you drill for water. It may be way down the road, but we have to look at the long term.”

In addition, he said, if the acreage was withdrawn, “the cattlemen would be unable to go clean their water reservoirs, or enhance their water systems, etc. It would change a lot of things we don’t know, that’s why we need to be at the table.”

The Review-Journal article said, “The area once was considered for possible wilderness study but was set aside when Congress debated a Lincoln County land act (Toquop) in 2004. More recently, its natural and historic values also prompted the BLM to reject it as a site for fast-tracking solar projects.”

In 2007, Reid proposed designating portions of the same area as a national conservation area to preserve the area around Heizer’s massive “City” sculpture.

Higbee told the Review-Journal, “It is kind of neat stuff, the “City” complex. But it’s hard to swallow restricting development on more than 800,000 acres of a county that is already 98 percent under federal control. That’s a huge viewshed. We don’t want that to become a national conservation area.”