In October, 2000, Lincoln County was the fifth poorest county in the United States. The county was comprised of about 90% federally owned land which prevented private development of the land. Lincoln County commissioners took the matter in their own hands and took the problem to Congress. The Lincoln County Land Act was passed in 2004 allowing the sale of federally owned land to private developers.
In 2005, BLT Lincoln County Land, LLC of Las Vegas bought 3,800 acres overlooking Mesquite's Sun City in the area called Flat Top Mesa. The company completed a strategic plan which called for a mixed use of residential and commercial development and a project of renewable energy from solar power. The plan was presented to and approved by Lincoln County.
“This is an ideal location for this project,” said Mark Teepen, a development consultant with an impressive history of successful projects. “Mesquite is growing and the demand is there. The mesa is perfect for solar development and the time is right for this type of renewable energy. We have a comprehensive marketing plan and have partnered with a reputable, internationally known solar development company.”
Teepen said this project has its risks and rewards. The risk is obtaining a good power purchase agreement that will make the solar project profitable. The rewards are lots of jobs, clean energy and very little use of water for solar development.
“At this time, power is purchased from the State of Arizona and run through Overton Power District for use by Mesquite,” said Teepen. “With our solar project, the energy can go directly to Overton Power.”
Teepen said the original concept was to build a residential community that “preserved the pristine character of the mesa,” but the collapse of the real estate market changed the plan. Now the company will develop the renewable energy component (solar) first and revisit the residential project when the market turns around.
With the history of the failed Toquop project due to overwhelming public opposition, Sithe Global, the company developing that project has ceased development. With the loss of their water rights when that contract expired, Jim McGowan, senior vice president for Sithe Global said, “at the current time, without a viable 'off take' arrangement for the electrical output from this project, Sithe Global is not actively pursuing the project any longer.” In other words, that project is finished.
Coupled with the controversy in the minds of Mesquite residents about Nevada Community Solutions (NCS) projects, BLT Lincoln County Land promises to be open and upfront with all phases of the project.
So what is the future of Flat Top Mesa?
The build out of Phase I by BLT Lincoln County Land, LLC will require permits from Overton Power District for the power transmission lines and from BLM for improving access roads to the site across BLM land. This process will take up to 18 months and all costs will be paid by the developer.
Lincoln County is very enthusiastic about this project because it will significantly increase the tax base and spawn further development, bringing jobs into the county. However, with development comes significant public infrastructure issues such as providing police protection, streets, fire and rescue services, schools and other necessary services.
Who will provide these services is the question when the county seat is 179 miles away in Pioche. The City of Mesquite is not comfortable with Lincoln County's plans because officials worry that the city will have to absorb some of the infrastructure requirements. Another worry is that the popularity of a successful development will draw new residents away from Mesquite and with that, a drain on the tax base.
The language of the Lincoln County Land Act stipulates that oversight of the project will include both the City of Mesquite as well as Lincoln County. Issues of taxes, water availability, green energy, and Mesquite's hesitancy to get the jump on these issues, will be the subject of many future debates.
Part Two will examine the solar project and its impact on Mesquite.