When the Airport Authorities Are Not Watching Bad Things Can Happen

Editors Note: This is not a California Airport story, but it is an example of why, at the local level, pilots must be aware of what is going with their airports.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005
Clark County audit criticizes McCarran Airport land deals
The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) – Airport administrators didn’t appropriately oversee land deals with private developers who acquired property under a land disposal program, according to an audit presented Tuesday to the Clark County commission. “The main problems included insufficient (airport department) oversight of the land exchange process and with the lease appraisals themselves,” the audit said.

Clark County Manager Thom Reilly ordered the review last year after the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that a broker acquired county land advertised for use only as a cemetery and sold it to a developer with plans for a grocery store.

Land broker Scott Gragson’s company, GKT Acquisitions, netted a $5 million profit in the exchange, the newspaper reported.

The audit focused on land swaps involving Gragson and Las Vegas appraiser Timothy Morse.

The report said public land was transferred to Gragson at no cost during two separate transactions. Morse had a financial interest in property traded to the airport, according to the audit.

Gragson and Morse did not return calls Tuesday for comment.

Aviation Director Randall Walker, who is responsible for overseeing the program, said an airport analysis substantiated the auditors’ findings and “personnel measures” were taken against the employee charged with reviewing the appraisals. He said the supervisor who oversaw the swaps is no longer a county employee.

The audit also raised questions about Morse, a longtime Las Vegas appraiser who, Carroll said, appraised property involved in a land swap in which he had a financial stake.

The land disposal program oversees 5,300 acres of land transferred to the airport by the federal government under the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act of 1998.

It is intended to keep unsuitable developments, such as homes, from being built under airport flight paths by placing deed restrictions on land before dealing it to private developers.

Five percent of the proceeds collected by the airport go to schools, 85 percent is returned to the federal government, and 10 percent is kept by the airport.

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