Nevada lawmakers push transfer of federal land to colleges


Long-term plans to expand Southern Nevada's college campuses got a boost Monday with the announcement of a bill in Congress to transfer federal land to the state's higher education system.

In Washington, Nevada's lawmakers are hoping the third time is the charm. The college land bill was introduced late in the 2008 congressional session and again in 2009 but failed to pass each time.

The bill would transfer 2,000 acres of federal land in North Las Vegas to UNLV and 40 acres in northwest Las Vegas to the College of Southern Nevada. It also would transfer 280 acres in Pahrump to Great Basin College.

The proposed UNLV land is north of Interstate 215 between Pecos Road and Lamb Boulevard.

Gerry Bomotti, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' vice president for finance and business, said there are no plans to develop the campus immediately, even if the bill succeeds this time.

"Probably not something we'll be working on next year," he said. "It's more for the longer term."

He said the campus could eventually include a research park that could act as an incubator for businesses. It might also house graduate education, health sciences programs and space for a partnership with CSN and Nevada State College.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Bomotti said. "Thirty, 40, 50 years from now, there could be a lot of development out there."

The proposed CSN land is at the corner of Durango Drive and Elkhorn Road, near U.S. Highway 95 in northwest Las Vegas.

Michael Richards, CSN's president, said he would like the community college to have a presence in every corner of the valley. There are already campuses in North Las Vegas, Henderson and western Las Vegas.

He said, however, that because of the economic downturn, the campus might not be developed as quickly as it otherwise would have been.

"It might not be as urgent as it once was, but it's still important strategically for this institution," he said.

Much of what happens, and when, will depend on funding and enrollment, he said.

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., took the lead on the latest effort to pass the bill, which was introduced Thursday, with Reps. Joe Heck and Shelley Berkley as co-sponsors.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans to reintroduce it in the Senate, a spokeswoman said.

Lawmakers were hopeful that Amodei's position on the House Resources Committee and its public lands subcommittee would gain the bill a hearing and possibly give it a push, aides said.

Legislation dealing with public lands has proved difficult to pass in trying to balance the interests of conservationists, potential developers and outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Some even consider lands bills to be a form of local benefit or earmark.

The most recent package of public lands bills passed almost three years ago.

Amodei said the plan to transfer acreage to the Nevada schools enjoys "broad community support."

"If Nevada is to build a diverse, sustainable economy that leverages our assets and cultivates new ones, then we need strong institutions of higher learning," he said in a statement.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.

 

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