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31


THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 31, July 1, 1997

President Crowley's Chateau

By Vin Suprynowicz
vin@lvrj.com

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Jack Dreyfus, the 83-year-old retired Wall Streeter who made his fortune by establishing the mutual fund that bears his name, bought the 10,400-acre Whittell Estate -- on the shore of Lake Tahoe, just south of Incline Village -- from eccentric San Francisco millionaire "Captain" George Whittell some 20 years back.
         Since then, Mr. Dreyfus has sold off 98 percent of the property to the government, in hopes it will be thus "preserved" from development.
         What remains -- the 16,000-square-foot Thunderbird Lodge, built in 1938 on the model of a French chateau, and a meager 140-acre seat -- still remains the largest privately held parcel on the steep and piney shores of the renowned emerald lake, which bestrides the Nevada-California line in the eastern foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
         Mr. Dreyfus signed an option back in January, 1996 with the American Land Conservancy, a San Francisco-based nonprofit group, giving them first dibs on the $50 million site. But the option has been extended four times, and is now due to expire at the end of this year. Mr. Dreyfus says he is unlikely to extend the option again, preferring to take the proceeds from a private sale.
         Unable to fund the purchase on their own, the Land Conservancy turned first to the U.S. Department of the Interior and Nevada's congressional delegation, hoping federal parcels in Southern Nevada could be sold and used to finance a government buyout of the Dreyfus property.
         But -- in addition to the current moratorium on new BLM land exchanges in Nevada -- federal officials who have toured the site all declare that maintenance on the lodge and other buildings would make such a federal purchase impractical.
         "All the federal government is interested in is real estate," declared U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. "The buildings were of no use to us."
         Leaving aside the question of what legitimate use the federal government would have for a prime piece of Tahoe lakeshore without the buildings (a coastal gun emplacement, perhaps? A customs station?), this sent the Land Conservancy folks, tapping their tin cups, to the University of Nevada, Reno, where they finally appear to have scared up some interest.
         The University of California, Davis, you see, is currently developing an environmental research center on the west shore of the lake. Perhaps it would be too unkind to attribute to mere professional jealousy the sudden interest of UNR president Joe Crowley in therefore establishing such a "study center" of his own, in a far grander location on the east shore.
         Whatever the motivation, UNR currently entertains the notion of raising some $3 million to buy the buildings on the site, and another $1 million to develop its new cold-water "research facility," purportedly all through private donations.
         UNR would then supposedly "provide public access to the property and use the buildings to teach courses in ecology and conservation biology."
         But while it could hardly hurt the young folk in Ecology 101 to row about for a week or so, taking a few depth soundings and gathering up pollywogs, I find it hard to envision the administrators in charge of maintaining this exclusive park-like setting welcoming the public to come frolic on the beaches as they please.
         Why do I suspect "public access" would be extremely limited, while the summer weekends would be quickly booked with catered weddings for the daughters of our fast-rising new state aristocracy -- university administrators, wealthy alumni donors, and the university's double-dipping patrons at the Legislature?
         Besides, between $4 million and $50 million lies a sizeable gap, to be filled one way or another out of the pockets of taxpayers, the vast majority of whom would never even see the place.
         If public funds are to go to the acquisition of this property, it should become a state park, open to the largest possible number of those who foot the bill.
         But before we get that far, the notion that only collective ownership by a government agency can "preserve" such a property is patently absurd.
         The Whittell Estate has been in private hands for the vast majority of the past century, yet has never been allowed to degenerate into a tawdry carnival, or auto graveyard. On the other hand, assets turned over to government agencies for "stewardship" have often seen those very "stewards" become accomplices in their "exploitation" -- witness the ongoing logging of remote federal forests, only made financially feasible by the enthusiasm of the Forest Service for cutting in roads at taxpayer expense.
         That such a purchase should even be considered, even as our lawmakers mouth hollow platitudes about "austerity," "belt-tightening," and the "reluctance" with which they're forced to keep raising taxes, is absurd.


Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.


Imagine a government bent on sharing its sensitive, caring, environmentally friendly ways with an entire universe. Then imagine the army it needs. CLD - Collective Landing Detachment. Dark military SF. By Victor Milan. From AvoNova.


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