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In Nevada, the Name to Know is Reid

Members of one lawmaker's family represent nearly every major industry in their home state. And their clients rely on his goodwill.

June 23, 2003|Chuck Neubauer and Richard T. Cooper | Times Staff Writers

Reid praised it as balancing economic development with safeguarding natural resources. It placed an additional 440,000 acres of federal land under wilderness protection, he noted.

The bill also benefited at least five clients of Reid family lobbyists. And it contained a provision potentially worth millions of dollars to a senior partner of the law firm that employs Reid's four sons, a provision that was dropped at the last minute after questions were raised in Washington.

The bill freed about 18,000 acres near the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas for development and annexation, by releasing two parcels of land from "wilderness study" protection. Key Reid and former Sen. Bryan lobbied for those provisions, lobbyist reports show. City officials did not return phone calls from The Times.

Barringer's municipal clients also did well.

Lobbying reports show Barringer's firm received $220,000 to lobby on the bill for the city of Henderson. While the city did not get everything it wanted, the bill freed up 4,000 federal acres on its outskirts for development and annexation. Sen. Reid also supported another transfer of federal land to a local irrigation project that paid Barringer's firm to lobby on the provision. In each case, Barringer is listed by name as working for the government entities. Officials did not return phone calls from The Times.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 27, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Lobbyists -- A graphic accompanying an article in Monday's Section A on Nevada Sen. Harry Reid's lobbyist relatives incorrectly said that the University of Nevada at Reno paid $10,000 a month to the Lionel Sawyer & Collins law firm. In fact, the university paid the firm $40,000 in the last half of 2002, according to federal lobbyist reports.

Another Barringer client may have been the single biggest beneficiary of the legislation: the Howard Hughes Corp., a division of the giant Rouse real estate company and the biggest private landowner in Clark County.

Hughes wanted to expand its Summerlin planned community onto nearby federal land. In exchange for the federal land, Hughes proposed to swap 1,082 acres of rugged terrain scattered along the fringes of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Initially, Congress balked at the exchange. Several years earlier, it had explicitly banned land swaps in southern Nevada because of evidence the government had lost millions of dollars through unequal trades. Now, federal land in the area must be sold at auction in most cases.

The Clark County bill set aside the auction requirement. Reid pointed out that Hughes had begun pushing for the swap before the auction rule was imposed.

And, Reid argued, the exchange preserved the scenic value of the rugged land adjoining the Red Rock conservation area. The state's leading environmental groups had lined up behind the swap.

For its part, Hughes said that if Congress rejected the deal, it might build on the parcels. In 2000, the company had told local tax authorities the land was too steep to develop. But Hughes vice president Thomas Warden said the company's position changed with the upswing in the Las Vegas real estate market.

An appraiser selected by Hughes valued the federal land at $24,448 an acre. After the bill passed, federal land nearby was auctioned for six times that amount.

Warden said that in such a volatile market, any number of factors could account for the difference in prices. Chief of staff McCue said the legislation stopped almost certain development of a "spectacular piece of land."

"We worked with the environmental community to do what was necessary to stop the development," she said. "And we were successful."

The transfer was consummated in May. Warden said Sen. Reid had been "especially helpful." He also credited the expertise of Barringer and his firm, which was paid $300,000, according to lobbyist reports.

"Why were we successful?" Warden said. "It was because of the firm


Power Line Politics

The Hughes swap was at least done in plain sight. The company name appeared in the Clark County bill, along with descriptions of what each party would get.

Not so with Section 709 of the original bill, "Relocation of Right-of-Way Corridor Located in Clark and Lincoln Counties in the State of Nevada."

Only a close comparison of the provision with local property records for the Coyote Springs valley, which lies northeast of Las Vegas, revealed that the provision was intended to remove an obstacle to a proposed real estate development project headed by Harvey Whittemore, a longtime friend of Sen. Reid and a senior partner in the law firm that employs his four sons.

As U.S. Route 93 slices through the high desert, it divides two visions of the future.

On one side of the road lay 49,817 acres of federal land for which special wilderness protection had been proposed.

On the other side lay 42,800 acres of privately owned land on which Whittemore's development group, Coyote Springs Investment, hoped to build the largest planned community in Nevada history -- with 50,000 homes, plus stores and 10 championship-golf courses.

A cloud hung over the plan, however: A federally mandated right-of-way for electric power lines cuts a mile-wide swath the length of the land that Coyote Springs wants to develop.

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