Rhodes seeks BLM land swap to boost farm acreage in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. — Jim Rhodes has initiated a proposed land exchange with the Bureau of Land Management to consolidate property he intends to farm in northwest Arizona.

The former Las Vegas home builder-turned-agricultural entrepreneur plans to grow alfalfa and other crops on at least 7,500 of the roughly 33,000 acres he owns already at Red Lake, about 20 miles north of Kingman.

While some neighbors and others have complained about dust from the farm venture and expressed concern that crop irrigation will deplete the aquifer, Rhodes is going ahead with his proposal to acquire roughly 21,000 acres of public land administered by the BLM.

The Rhodes and publicly owned sections of land in the area are comingled in so-called “checkerboard” fashion. Land exchanges are sometimes pursued to group sections of land under common ownership and boundaries to resolve right of way, access and management challenges.

In a Feb. 18 letter to Ruben Sanchez, manager for the BLM’s Kingman field office, Rhodes said the agency and public also will benefit from the proposed land swap. The letter states that the BLM will enjoy the same access and management benefits that Rhodes would gain for his Kingman Farms LLC venture.

“In addition, some of the land which the federal government will acquire along the western edge of the Valley has significant conservation and recreational value. The acquisition of these lands would facilitate public access to the Mount Tipton Wilderness Area,” the letter states. “Additional benefits to the BLM and the public would include the acquisition of lands within the dry lake bed of Red Lake that would help consolidate BLM ownership there, and scenic lands within the Golden Valley/Fig Springs area.”

The letter also notes that Rhodes proposes to give up five sections of land within the Lake Mead National Recreation area, allowing consolidation consistent with the National Park Service’s management objectives.

While the initial proposal involves an acre-for-acre exchange, parties agree that the number of acres and their location could change as the evaluation process unfolds. Don McClure, assistant field manager for the BLM’s Kingman office, said exchanges of this magnitude frequently take two years or more to complete.

“We’re on the ground floor. We’re just starting,” McClure said. “This could go in a lot of different directions.”

McClure said the proposal must go through an extensive process that will include public hearings and opportunity for citizen input. He said a determination that an exchange is “in the public interest” is key to government approval.

Rhodes has volunteered to open a re­imbursable account to cover costs associated with government study and resources expended as the process unfolds.

Chris Stephens, a Rhodes attorney, repeatedly has dismissed rumors and allegations that the agricultural adventure is temporary and that Rhodes has a different end game in mind. He said well drilling and irrigation system development is aimed at farming, not at future home construction.

“I think with what has happened to the housing market, I can’t even begin to speculate on how many years it would be before we could viably sell houses as far out as Red Lake,” Stephens said.

Rhodes purchased thousands of acres in northwest Arizona roughly a decade ago. His plans to build thousands of homes in five planned communities burst in the housing bubble that led him to bankruptcy.

While Rhodes enjoyed some support within the business sector in northwest Arizona, he endured plenty of criticism from many others who worried his original residential development plan would ruin desert landscapes and deplete the water supply.

Rhodes’ farming operation at Red Lake, and a smaller agricultural effort in Golden Valley, are drawing similar negative focus.