Members of the Sheahan family said Monday they have rejected the Air Force's $5.2 million offer to buy their land and mining claims near Groom Mine, next to the secret Area 51 installation where the U.S. military and CIA have tested spy planes and stealth aircraft for six decades.
Joe Sheahan, 54, of Henderson, said the family has decided to decline the final offer that the Air Force made public last week because "we want to keep our property."
He said the Air Force has threatened to take control of their property through eminent domain on Sept. 10 if the family doesn't accept the offer.
His cousins Ben Sheahan, 56, Danny Sheahan, 58, and Barbara Sheahan Manning, 59, — all from Henderson — said their stake in the combined 400 acres of property and unpatented mining claims is worth considerably more, not counting the reparations they say they are owed by the Air Force and Department of Energy for "abuses and atrocities" that date back to the early 1950s. That's when they said their ore processing mill was fire-bombed by a military jet and their property was showered by radioactive fallout from numerous above-ground nuclear weapons tests.
Most recently, when some family members visited the property in the restricted area 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas — as the Air Force has allowed them to do about once a month — guards held them at gunpoint, including a 7-year-old girl who was "traumatized" by the show of force, Danny Sheahan said.
"It seems like machine guns solve anything on the property out there. That's not the American way," he said.
A Nellis Air Force Base spokesman said in an email Monday that the Air Force "is unaware of any evidence to support this claim."
The Air Force claims the family's activities over the past several years have impeded its efforts to use the range for flight tests like those that have spawned the nation's stealth aircraft at Area 51. The airstrip on the Groom Dry Lake bed, known as Watertown, began operation in 1955 to test the U-2 spy plane.
Nellis officials have said the presence of civilians in the restricted area poses safety and security risks and results in costly delays of flight operations.
"We're interrupting their operations? Really?" Joe Sheahan said. "We didn't parachute into their backyard. They parachuted into our backyard."
The Sheahan's ancestors established mining for silver, lead, copper, zinc and small amounts of gold dating back to 1889. Manning said the family owns six patented claims in addition to 15 unpatented claims that are leased to the Bureau of Land Management.
She said the family's ore processing mill exploded and burned in June 1954 when a jet's wing fuel tank was dropped on it.
The Air Force said the incident was adjudicated in the United States Court of Claims.
Manning said, however, "Our grandparents ran out of money trying to fight it."
Contact Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2.