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Groom Mine owners call feds disingenuous

The Sheahan family’s feud with the Air Force over their Groom Mine property near the classified Area 51 installation will climax Thursday as the Air Force moves to seize it after a co-owner said the rejected $5.2 million offer was “disingenuous.”

During a call this week with a real estate representative at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, family members found out that the Air Force already had obtained authorization to take over the property through eminent domain before negotiations began last year.

“They secretly went to Congress before the first meeting in 2014 and got permission to condemn our property,” co-owner Joe Sheahan said Wednesday. “It was disingenuous. This was never a negotiation. It was always a shotgun wedding.”

A call to the Lackland base official, David Walterscheid, was not returned Wednesday morning. His name appears in the Aug. 11 final offer letter to the Sheahans from Jennifer Miller, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations.

Because of its location within sight of the facility where stealth aircraft are tested against foreign radar systems 90 miles north of Las Vegas, Sheahan said the property alone is worth far more than $5.2 million not counting the value of the silver-and-lead mine holdings.

“We’re not going to let them steal the truth from us. It was our property, and we fought to keep it. Now they just want to take it,” he said.

“They refused to recognize the Apex Law and our water rights, which always become more valuable as time goes on. Where’s the attorney general?” Sheahan said. He was referring to a mining law that gives owners of an outcrop vein the right to mine it where it leads even if it extends beneath other mining claims.

The Air Force contends the family’s activities over the past several years have impeded its efforts to use the range for flight tests.

When asked if the Air Force plans to follow through with taking the property through eminent domainon Thursday because of the Sheahans’ rejection of the final offer, Nellis Air Force Base officials said Wednesday they are hopeful the landowners will work with the Air Force to find a solution before Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

“The Air Force has made two offers to purchase the property without receiving a counteroffer from the landowners,” Nellis’ public affairs staff wrote in an email to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“If the landowners refuse the Air Force’s best and final offer … the Air Force will evaluate all options, including condemnation,” the email says. “In a condemnation action, the Air Force would pay the landowners just compensation for their property through a legal action in Federal District Court.”

Nellis officials said the Sheahans would not give the Air Force access to perform an appraisal “so we do not have an exact estimate of the current fair market value.”

The Air Force made a $2.4 million offer last year based on older appraisals and discussions with the Sheahans in the 1990s. But hopes for a speedy, voluntary sale dimmed when the family declined the inflation-adjusted price and wouldn’t make a counteroffer, according to Nellis officials.

About 20 family members have stakes in the combined 400 acres of property and mining claims, of which six are patented — meaning the mineral rights are on private property owned by the claimant — and 15 are unpatented. Their ancestors mined for silver, lead, copper, zinc and gold at the mine dating to 1889.

Sheahan said the family has fought an uphill battle with the federal government for more than 60 years, first when radioactive fallout showered down on their property from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests at the Nevada Test Site in the early 1950s and later when the CIA and the Air Force found an old airstrip along the Groom Dry Lake bed in 1955 to test the U-2 spy plane.

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

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