How to lose the land

Ian Bigley is the mining justice organizer at the Progressive Leadership of Alliance of Nevada, and a student at the University of Nevada, Reno studying cultural anthropology.

Washoe County has proposed a lands measure titled the Washoe County Economic Development and Conservation Act. Put simply, it would allow for the state to sell public lands in Washoe County to private companies.

The intent of this act is to promote further development in Washoe County by selling what is currently public land to private developers. Proponents of the bill point to the creation of conservation areas as evidence of its virtue. The creation of these conservation areas is token accommodation that does not address sustainability. The function of these protected areas is to justify unsustainable development in other areas. A true solution addresses the quality, not just the quantity of development, for humans are part of the environment, and we must integrate our needs with those of the environment to have sustainable development.

The lands that will be open to development under this bill are adjacent to the Pyramid Lake Reservation. Members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe have maintained a moratorium on building on their reservation to ensure the health of their environment. Building up to the border of the reservation will negatively affect their efforts to maintain and enhance the environment. Some of the proposed lands are along the Truckee River between Reno and Fernley. Development on this land will impact the water of the Truckee on which the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe is culturally and economically dependent. The creation of impermeable surface along the river will contribute to flooding and runoff with lower water quality.

Those who support this measure claim that it is needed to support 100,000 new residents in the region. The problem is that there is not enough water to support 100,000 new residents in the area, which is relevant to this proposed act. The other use of the land could be for industrial development, which—as we have seen at the Tahoe Regional Industrial Complex—can end up being tax-free. This means that companies profit from our infrastructure without contributing to it, while our residents subsidize their operations by funding the infrastructure. Residents also bear the burden of impacts to land, air and water.

This bill will result in sprawling development, the overuse of water, and some conservation areas which do little to address the impacts of—and are a continuation of—environmental mismanagement.What we need is responsible development that is focused on improving the city core through affordable housing and transportation.

We can't justify environmental sacrifice zones through the protection of other areas. We need development which integrates our needs with the environment.