Apparently running short of local issues in this Grinchtide season, the exalted New York Times on Sunday turned its editorial attention to the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act.
As cornucopias go, it is hard to top what has been happening in Nevada,” wrote the Timesmen, as Christmas carols and popcorn-sated pigeons wafted up toward their gray-tower windows from Times Square, far below.
Local governments have been cashing in on the sale of federal lands to spare their taxpayers the tab for a raft of amenities that include parks and shooting ranges,” The Times continued. “That’s right: the federal government has auctioned off thousands of acres in the last decade under an unusual law that channels most of the proceeds into an account set aside for projects in Nevada… The obvious question is why federal lands should be tapped like some desert ATM, forcing taxpayers in the 49 other states to subsidize the booming regional growth around Las Vegas,” the Timesmen note.
One of the main rationales for the program was to acquire and protect environmentally sensitive tracts of land in private hands, but only 15 cents of every dollar has gone toward such projects. … The big losers are taxpayers everywhere else, few of whom even know about this one-state bonanza. … Nevadans have every right to have boccie and tennis courts. But it is not clear why the federal government should sell off chunks of the nation to pay for them.”
ell, we should have known someone was going to call us on the “boccie” thing, eventually.
Manhattan Island — and Queens, for that matter, not to mention some equally pricey tracts in Port Chester and Southampton — are also “chunks of the nation.” As New Yorkers stand shivering in their rags this holiday season, pleading for federal aid to help rebuild their decaying infrastructure, why doesn’t the federal government just sell off some of those “chunks of the nation” — which would surely generate higher revenues than a couple thousand acres of our own god-forsaken lizard habitat?
Oh, wait. The federal government doesn’t OWN any of that land — except for the occasional dockyard, arsenal, and post office building, as authorized in the Constitution — does it? In fact, New Yorkers have been free to enrich themselves by buying and selling and using those lands for profitable purposes for CENTURIES, haven’t they?
Where in the Constitution does it say the federal government — let alone these struggling paupers of New York City — are authorized to own, manage and control 90 percent of any Western state, and to expect a share of the profits when the federals finally, reluctantly, deign to “sell” these lands (on which they have never paid any taxes, which they never “purchased by the consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be,” as called for in Article I, Section 8 of that aforementioned Constitution) to the very people who live here?
Let us imagine for a moment that Manhattan had attempted to grow from the quaint seaport surrounded by woods, farms and cesspits to which George Washington returned in 1783, into today’s metropolis, under the conditions currently facing Nevadans.
Let us imagine 90 percent of Manhattan island were today owned by the federal government, that New Yorkers could use the bulk of that land only under leases whose conditions could be changed at whim by the federals — who were even now busy dumping boulders and chaining gates to shut down public access to Morningside Heights and the Upper East Side — that even the most minor attempt to lay a corrugated steel pipe under a dirt road up near 5th Avenue at 51st Street currently had to be delayed until the federals got around to sending out inspectors to certify there was no “danger to riparian habitat,” no “threat to endangered species,” no relevant “archaeological sites” (which could be as minor as a rough circle of blackened rocks identified as a “prehistoric fire pit.”)
Build high-rise buildings north of 23rd Street? Hold on just a minute there, bub. A certain percentage of that land must be left available for recreational uses; a percentage of any homes built there must be sold to poor people of our choosing at below-market rates. …
And you didn’t think to bring up the presence of the endangered window-ledge-loving rock dove, did you? Do you have a sanctuary and recovery program in place? Who’s your environmental advisor, for heaven’s sake, John D. Rockefeller?
In fact, the Western states’ congressional delegations should remove such concerns from the realm of the merely hypothetical. Enact into federal statute the New England Seacoast Cranberry Bog Restoration Act — with full powers to seize property and remediate past illicit and unpermitted “drainage” enterprises — along with programs to reintroduce breeding populations of the gray wolf and the mountain lion to New York’s Central park — and see how long it takes the folks in Times Square to change their tune about wise and beneficent federal “land and species management.”