After years of effort, it’s happened. On Friday, May 22, Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt signed over 5,900 acres of federal public land in eastern La Paz County to the county. The land had been held by the Bureau of Land Management. A ceremony was held at the Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott, which was one of Bernhardt’s stops on a trip through Arizona to visit national parks and facilities.
Joining Bernhardt were La Paz County Supervisors Holly Irwin, D.L. Wilson and Duce Minor, U.S. Arizona Dist. 4 Rep. Paul Gosar, and Arizona State BLM Director Ray Suazo.
In March, La Paz County signed an agreement with 174 Power Global, a South Korean company, to build a solar energy facility on 4,000 acres. At 850 megawatts, it will be the largest solar project in the nation. It’s estimated 800 to 1,000 construction jobs will be created, with the facility producing enough power for 300,000 homes.
The day’s events culminated years of effort to have the BLM land conveyed to the county. Much of the work was done by District 1 Supervisor D.L. Wilson, who worked with Arizona’s Congressional delegation to get the land conveyance passed. He even went to Washington, D.C. and testified before Congress, urging them to approve the conveyance.
Bernhardt credited the passage of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Recreation and Management Act for getting the land conveyance done. It was signed by President Donald Trump on March 12, 2019.
The Dingell Act was made up of more than 100 individual bills that were introduced by 50 Senators and several House members. Specifically, in the United States Senate, McSally introduced bipartisan legislation in the form of the La Paz County Land Conveyance Act of 2019, and in the House of Representatives, Gosar introduced companion, bipartisan legislation in the form of S. 54, the La Paz County Land Conveyance Act of 2019, and its companion, bipartisan legislation in the form of H.R. 304.
McSally, a Republican, said she worked with BLM to ensure the conveyance was done in a timely manner. She said it was great to be able to see La Paz County move forward.
Gosar, also a Republican, said the land conveyance would bring new energy to La Paz County in the form of jobs and growth.
“I was happy to work with Bernhardt to make this a reality for my constituents,” he said.
“Our vision is to attract new renewable solar development to this strategic location to diversify our local economy and create high paying jobs,” Irwin said. “Less than 6 percent of the land within La Paz County is in private ownership. We are grateful to Representative Gosar, Senators McSally and Sinema, Secretary Bernhardt and Director Suazo for working with us to get this done. This land conveyance will increase the tax base, so our rural County can adequately meet the growing needs of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Colorado River Indian Tribes’ Chairman Dennis Patch said he also supported the conveyance.
“The Colorado River Indian Tribes is proud to support this project and appreciates the partnership with La Paz County as it engages in meaningful economic development, while still protecting our sacred history tied to the region,” Patch said. “Now more than ever, Western Arizona needs sustainable jobs, so it is my hope that we can work with the BLM to replicate this process and add additional land to our reservation and the County for even more economic development opportunities.”
Under the Dingell Act, the BLM must exclude any portions containing significant cultural, environmental, wildlife, or recreational resources. The La Paz County Land Conveyance ensures tribal cultural artifacts are protected by including several provisions to avoid disturbance.
Pioneer reporter John Gutekunst contributed to this story.