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Editorial: Don't fence out public

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By The Staff

Storrie Lake has been in the state park system for decades. So it’s no surprise that Las Vegas residents see this attraction as the domain of no particular group or person but, rather, as public property.

The state, however, doesn’t own most of the park’s land. Instead, it’s the property of the Storrie Project Water Users Association, which serves ranchers, farmers and government agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The State Parks Division has leased use of the land for the park since 1959. Its latest 15-year lease, in which it paid Storrie Project $30,000 a year, expired nine months ago.

But the state has refused to accept the association’s offer to continue with the same terms and conditions. (This also happened in the 1980s.) The state points out that it is paying more for its lease at Storrie than anywhere else in the state. Also, it notes that it doesn’t pay anything at all for parks such as Elephant Butte.

In response, the Storrie Project points out that the other places with free leases are owned by federal agencies. The association is a private nonprofit group.

The Storrie Project has filed a lawsuit against the state to settle the dispute. Last week, the association announced that it would soon fence off the park from the public until the state reached an agreement to continue the lease. Because of legal complexities, people who can afford boats will be able to fish on the lake, but the rest of us will be barred from casting lines from the shore.

We doubt it will come to this. The Storrie Project is David to the state’s Goliath, so the association’s board likely concluded that the fence was the most effective weapon in its arsenal. Just as the weather warms up, the group is raising the prospect of keeping Las Vegans out of the park they consider theirs.

This brinkmanship may likely work. We bet that our area state legislators will catch wind and send a message to state government that the public wants to keep its state park.

But what if this doesn’t work? If the state remains obstinate, Storrie Project will feel compelled to put up the fence — an expense that it would rather not incur. Who loses in this game of brinkmanship? We, the people of Las Vegas.

We encourage our local lawmakers to lobby state government to get the lease renewed. And we ask that members of the Storrie Project — who belong to this community — hold off on putting up an ugly fence at one of our premier attractions.

Sure, the lawyers will tell us that Storrie Project owns this land. And they’re right. But in our eyes, it’s a community treasure.