Silver City residents turned out in force Monday to support legislation that would take the power to condemn private property away from Nevada miners.
Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, told the Judiciary committee mining companies and sugar beet processors are allowed to take private property by eminent domain.
"The question to keep in mind is when and if a private company has the right to take private property," she said..
She said her problem with the statute is "in giving one industry more right than any other industry."
Senate Bill 86 drew a crowd of supporters from Silver City where Comstock mining has served notice it will use the statute to expand the open pit mine there.
"Comstock is now drilling and has plans to take private property," said Theo McCormick. He said it's not right to allow unless it's for a purpose that serves the public good.
"I'm worried our government has been taken over by private corporations," he said urging the committee to reject that pressure and support the legislation.
He was backed by Larry Wahrenbrok, a 38-year resident of Silver City, who said the existing statute "violates core principals of a citizen's right to own private property."
"It's patently unjustifiable," he said.
Glen Miller, also a resident of the mining district, said eminent domain has rarely been used by mining companies because they don't have to. They have the money to fight and the law on their side to force property owners to negotiate with them like it or not.
He described the law as "a sword of Damocles hanging over the owner."
Rebecca Gasca of the American Civil Liberties Union said that organization supports the new law. But she pointed out it could go farther because there are a number other private companies which also have the power to condemn private property. That list includes not only utilities like NV Energy and Southwest Gas but such things as mortuaries and cemeteries,
Tim Crowley of the Nevada Mining Association urged the committee not to approve the legislation saying "there's no evidence the eminent domain authority has been used anything but sparingly."
He said repealing it would reduce the chance of bringing more mines to the state and expanding existing mines. He pointed out those mines provide high paying jobs averaging about $80,000 a year with benefits and said they pump millions into the Nevada economy each year in addition to paying taxes. Mining, he said, currently employs 12,000 workers in Nevada and pays not only the net proceeds of mines tax but sales and use taxes, property taxes and the modified business tax among others.
Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, questioned the long term impact of mining saying he grew up in a town in Kansas that was left devastated when the mines there pulled out, leaving toxic waste and environmental destruction behind.
Crowley said that isn't the case with modern Nevada mines.
"We're very proud of our reclamation efforts, very proud of how we leave a mine at closure," he said.
Laura Granier of Lionel, Sawyer and Collins testified the reason for the eminent domain statute is that, a hold-out landowner could completely prevent a major mining operation from starting up in Nevada.
"Mines are limited in the lands they can use because the ore body is where it is and can't be moved," she said. "If they can't get access, there's no mine, no jobs."
The committee took no action on SB86, which is very similar to an Assembly measure introduced by William Horne, D-Las Vegas. He said he would support Leslie's legislation.