Sixty years after the CIA and the Air Force found an old airstrip along the Groom Dry Lake bed to test the U-2 spy plane in 1955, the family that owns mineral rights to the Groom Mine and property within sight of the classified installation known as Area 51 has been given a final offer of $5.2 million to sell its stake in the land, Air Force officials said Friday.
Family spokesman Joe Sheahan, of Henderson, declined comment on a news release from Nellis Air Force Base announcing the offer.
The Nellis statement quotes Col. Thomas Dempsey, commander of the Nevada Test and Training Range, saying, "The Air Force has worked hard to be a responsible neighbor by actively working with the landowners and local neighbors to ensure our evolving missions and communities grew in a compatible, mutually beneficial manner.
"But in this case, the Air Force has exhausted all reasonable options to reach a settlement with the land owners," Dempsey said.
The Air Force claims the family's activities over the past several years have cramped its efforts to use the range for flight tests like those that have spawned the nation's stealth aircraft at Area 51, 90 miles north of the Las Vegas Valley.
A Facebook message from the "Save Groom Mine" website questions the accuracy of the Nellis release. And, a reader's tip submitted to the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Aug. 19 listing Sheahan cousin, Barbara Manning, as a family contact, says the Air Force "is trying to take control of their mine and land."
"It's been a constant battle since area 51 opened up and started testing," reads the tip. "The family's mill was bombed and put them out of business. They have been affected by radiation and been threatened with machine guns ... The AF has made attempts to purchase the land but at a fraction of the worth."
Manning answered a call Friday from the Review-Journal but said she couldn't talk.
Asked about the allegations, a Nellis spokesman wrote in an email that "at various times since the early 1980s, the Air Force and the landowners have discussed an enduring solution to the situation; however, for a variety of reasons no resolution was reached."
When asked about how the property owners access the restricted land, the spokesman, Master Sgt. Sanjay Allen, said they "are entitled to access to their property, and their short-notice access to a secure range area requires that scheduled test missions be halted and rescheduled at significant cost to the government."
"Civilian presence within the confines of this active test and training range represents both a safety and security risk," Allen said. "Whenever people are present on this parcel of land, test and training activities cannot take place, resulting in a significant negative impact on the Air Force programs and missions."
The "Save Groom Mine" Facebook page shows historic photos of Patrick and Avis Sheahan's home at the mine, which was established in 1889 for extracting lead and copper. One shows Avis with her great-grandchildren visiting Patrick's grave at the mine.
The Nellis news release quotes Jennifer Miller, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, saying, "We are hopeful the family will accept our final offer" of $5.2 million for 300 acres of unpatented mine claims and 100 acres of property.
"We understand the landowners' connection to the land, but we must also consider the demands of national security," Miller said.