County fears Homeland Security public lands proposal

Clark County commissioners asked federal legislators Tuesday to eliminate part of a public lands bill package that could give the Department of Homeland Security more power over how public lands are used.

At risk, they said, is more than $646 billion contributed to the U.S. economy annually by hunters, anglers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who might not be able to access the lands if the legislation is approved and federal authorities decide they need to use Nevada lands for a variety of purposes.

And because more than 80 percent of Clark County is federal public land, Commissioner Tom Collins, an avid outdoorsman, took exception to that idea.

"We’re all concerned about the ramifications," he said. "Homeland Security can just come into Southern Nevada, and say, ‘We’re going to take over this area.’ "

Collins said under the proposal, Homeland Security officials would have "too much power" and could enforce a checkpoint between Las Vegas and Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, about 45 miles north of the city.

The base is critical to the free world, Collins said. "The drones that fly over Afghanistan and Iraq, they operate out of Creech Air Force Base. If Homeland Security felt somebody was doing something, they could check everybody. What I understand, there would be no limits."

He objected to the checkpoint scenario because it could hurt the local economy, he said.

The proposal, H.R. 1505, is part of the H.R. 2578 lands package and came about after a disagreement when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told Homeland Security it could not patrol the border in Cochise County, Ariz., within the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge.

The county resolution urges the U.S. Senate to "put an end to H.R. 1505 … to protect local jobs, tourism and public lands." Commissioners said they wanted to make it clear they were "protecting Clark County" rather than getting involved with other states’ politics and border issues.

The proposal, known as the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, would override multi-agency coordination on federal lands agreed upon in a 2006 memo among the departments of Homeland Security, Interior and Agriculture that has increased cooperation and the exchanging of resources.

It would allow Homeland Security to "have immediate access to land" for purposes of construction and maintenance of roads and fences, vehicle patrols, installing and operating surveillance equipment and sensors, using aircraft and building temporary bases, according to the House bill.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said the county resolution reinforces and supports the opinion that federal agencies communicate well and should continue working together "rather than anyone being top dog."

"Stay with the partnership rather than allowing one group to supersede the rest," Giunchigliani said. "It’s not broken so what are they trying to fix? If Arizona and Texas want to deal with their border issues, they should deal with a separate piece of legislation rather than trying to run something through."

Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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