At the board of county commissioners meeting Dec. 16, County Emergency Management Director Eric Holt discussed his thoughts about Governor Steve Sisolak saying the state might not reimburse Nye and Lincoln County for emergency declaration relief aid over Storm Area 51’s September events in Rachel and Hiko.
Holt said he and Sheriff Kerry Lee attended a meeting of the Nevada Board of Examiners Dec. 10 in Carson City. “Part of the process to seek reimbursement,” he said, “is notification to the board. This was the first step in that process by submitting a letter of intention. We have 18 months to put all our figures together relating to our costs. We still have some outstanding invoices to collect.”
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Dec. 10 that Sisolak was considering dismissing requests for aid relief for the two counties.
The article stated, “The governor says Lincoln County approved event permits over state opposition and that taxpayers shouldn’t have to be on the hook to pay.”
Holt said the governor wanted clarification as to why the county approved the events.
Some of the reasoning given at the time, Holt said, “was to try to bring some order to chaos and bring some knowns to the unknown and push some of the costs that would have otherwise be incurred by the county.”
Lee said he thought the governor did not understand the implications of doing what was needed then. “We had intelligence that many people were coming; we couldn’t stop them.”
And many did come, although far less than had been rumored.
Holt said, “We did have a 1,700 percent increase in traffic, with all the motels rooms in the county booked for that week.”
Organizers and officials had only a short time to prepare for upwards of a rumored 30,000 to 50,000 or more people invading the small rural communities of Rachel and Hiko. As it turned out though, the actual numbers were only about 3,500 and no major incidents were reported.
Sisolak was quoted in the Review-Journal as saying, “I don’t know how this was an emergency when you gave an approval despite our concerns regarding this issue, and then you expect the taxpayers of the state to basically bail out your county commission’s approval.”
Holt said Lincoln County is seeking around $200,000 for costs of equipment, supplies and man-hours.
In July, more than two million Facebook users said they would come to the Storm Area 51 event. The event was strongly discouraged by U.S. Air Force officials.
Not knowing what to expect, county officials scrambled to get emergency preparations in place within six weeks. Two music festivals were planned, one at Rachel and one at Hiko.
Holt noted permits issued by Lincoln County made organizers responsible for security, medical and sanitation.
Earlier, Nye County lawmakers decided to not allow the event to happen near their part of the Area 51 base in Amargosa Valley.
Lincoln County Sheriff Lee again told commissioners that “costs would have been higher if law enforcement agencies from around the state had not taken it upon themselves to help us and arrive early to be in place to respond to emergency calls if needed.”
Commissioner Jared Brackenbury suggested that Holt, Lee and perhaps a couple of commissioners attend the next meeting of the Board of Examiners to further state their case for reimbursement.
Holt thought the next process for the Board of Examiners is to have the issue put on the next meeting agenda as an action item. But he did not know when that meeting might take place. He said, “The Department of Emergency Management will likely contact me when the next meeting is scheduled.”