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Family accuses Air Force of lowball price estimate on land it seized near Area 51

The family whose Groom Mine property overlooking top-secret Area 51 was seized by the Air Force through eminent domain said Monday that independent appraisers have valued the land at between $44 million and $116 million — a far cry from the $333,300 the government has offered.

James Leavitt, attorney for the Sheahan family, said the huge difference surfaced Friday when expert reports were exchanged during discovery in the ongoing land dispute in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. The case continues to be litigated after the family rejected the Air Force’s $5.2 million “final offer,” prompting the seizure of the Sheahans’ 400 acres in Lincoln County on Sept. 10, 2015. The Air Force then appraised the land at only $333,300.

In a telephone interview late Monday, Leavitt, of the Kermitt L. Waters firm, said he will argue for the the constitutional right of just compensation for the Sheahan family’s 22 property owners, noting that the law of eminent domain, the taking of private property by government to convert it to public use, requires it.

“If the government wants to take this to trial, then absolutely we’ll take this to court,” he said.

In a news release, family member Joe Sheahan said, “This is a prime example of the federal government overstepping its boundaries and bullying its own people as though the law doesn’t apply to them.”

The Air Force had no immediate comment Monday night.

Last year, the Air Force contended that the family’s activities over the past several years have hindered its efforts to use the Nevada Test and Training Range for flight tests.

The Area 51 installation has been used since the 1950s to test high-tech aircraft including the U-2 spy plane, the radar-evading F-117 Nighthawk and others in the Air Force inventory.

Leavitt said the property is unique because it was — before its seizure — the only privately held acreage with a view of Area 51.

“We have hired the most pre-eminent experts, and they have all determined this property is worth more than $44 million,” Leavitt said.

According to the family’s news release, one expert found that by “removing the Sheahans from their property, the USAF stands to gain between $444 million (and) $2 billion per year, the amount it cost them to shut down operations while the family visited their property.”

That referred to a previous agreement under which the Air Force allowed the family access to the property for certain occasions, including visits to the graves of relatives buried there.

The Sheahan family’s stake in the property includes six patented mining claims, meaning the mineral rights are on private property owned by the claimant. Their ancestors mined for silver, lead, copper, zinc and gold at the mine dating to 1889.

The family’s legal team also submitted documents to the court intended to establish other facts in the case, including one expert report that refers to an incendiary bomb that struck the Groom Mine mill building on June 23, 1954.

“The Air Force has never acknowledged that it ever happened,” Joe Sheahan said Monday. “We believe they did it on purpose to drive my grandfather and grandmother out.”

The June 14 report by Richard Ortiz, a retired Las Vegas fire investigator and bomb technician, concludes that the mill building was destroyed by “a sudden impact of some large and heavy object against the north side of the building at the point of the north end of the flotation machine terrace.”

“It is further my opinion based on the same physical evidence that such impact device carried with it a quantity of some diffusible liquid fuel,” Ortiz wrote.

The Sheahans also claim that above-ground nuclear tests at the former Nevada Test Site caused impacts and injury to their family.

“The fallout from the blasts landed on several family members and their animals, resulting in the death of horses and eventually family members, who died from cancer brought on by radiation,” the Sheahan family’s release reads.

Contact Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2

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