Commissioner Varlin Higbee reported at the county commission meeting April 17 that he and Lincoln County Water District General Manager Wade Poulsen attended a hearing recently of the state Natural Resource Committee in Carson City and were not treated with much respect there.
The two were attending the hearing to voice opposition to the 704,000 acre Basin and Range National Monument signed into law in 2015 by President Obama.
Higbee said the treatment they received at the special hearing was akin to being treated “like bastard stepchildren, to say the least.”
They had wanted to present the opinion that the monument is a detriment to the county’s future economy, in part, because over a 1000-acre feet of water on the monument will not be available for use by the Lincoln County Water District.
Poulsen noted to committee members that if the same criteria had been applied in the Las Vegas Valley at the turn of the 20th Century that whole area wouldn’t even exist now.
Higbee said, “That didn’t sit well with Assemblywoman Leslie Cohen (D-Henderson), who had stepped in for chairwoman Heidi Swank (D-Las Vegas), to officiate the hearing.
Higbee said he tried to explain that Lincoln County is a natural resource dependent county. “We depend on our natural resources to drive our tax base.” He said the federal government did something similar in 1996 to Garfield and Kane Counties in Utah with the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. “It took away the logging and mining industry and just wiped out the school districts in those counties.” He noted one particular school in the involved area dropped from 300 students to 60, “with the only thing left being government employees and their families.” The Grand Staircase protects 1,800,461 acres of land in southern Utah.
Higbee said he got about 90 seconds into his presentation and was cut off by Cohen, being told his time was up. However, he said it seemed that anyone who was in favor of the resolution being passed was given nearly an unlimited amount of time to make a presentation. “I wasn’t given a chance to address all the misinformation that was being presented,” he said.
Poulsen said he was also disturbed by the fact that the Natural Resources Committee “did not really want to hear from someone who did not agree with their position.” He said he believed the people in favor of the resolution and all the positive comments were given nearly six times as much time to speak as he and Higbee were. “I have never in my life seen legislators treat each other with less respect than I have with the controlling party in the legislature up there.”
Higbee further told commissioners, “Later, when I was brought back to answer a few more questions, twice I was cut off in mid-sentence, and again told my time was up. Even a committee person asking the question was cut off by Assemblywoman Cohen. Wouldn’t even allow the question to be asked.”
Higbee said the hearing was “for the purpose of passing a resolution giving full support to the Basin and Range Monument, and how wonderful the Antiquities Act is.” He did not know if the resolution was passed.
The Antiquities Act of 1906, gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation, create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific features.
Higbee said when the hearing was over, he and Poulsen were approached by four or five other veteran legislators including Sen. Pete Goicoechia of Eureka, who expressed surprise at the abusive treatment given them.
Also, Jeff Fontaine, the state executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties, and long time lobbyist at the capital, told Higbee personally, “I’ve never seen a public official be abused so bad in my life.”
County commission chair Paul Donohue said he thought the commissioners would write a letter of protest to the Natural Resources Committee for their actions. “In the words of Peter Pan, ‘Bad form.’” We’ll write a letter expressing our sadness at the fact that we can’t come to a meeting at the state offices and present an idea and opinion without it being ridiculed. We expect to be heard, not ridiculed. If you disagree with us, disagree, you don’t have to be rude.”