With no counteroffer on the table, the Air Force let its final $5.2 million offer expire at 3 p.m. Thursday and asked the Justice Department to condemn the Sheahan family’s Groom Mine property and claims near the classified Area 51 installation.
Groom Mine co-owners Joe and Ben Sheahan had sent an email Thursday morning to an Air Force real estate chief saying they “are willing to sit down and negotiate” a counteroffer for sale of their 400 acres of property and mining claims, within sight of the remote Air Force location.
But at 2:18 p.m., David Walterscheid, real estate transactions chief at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, replied to the Sheahans, saying that according to a July 2014 letter from Joe Sheahan, “the owners did not want to make a counteroffer or grant access to the property” for an appraisal.
“We are not prepared to offer more than $5.2M for the property,” Walterscheid said in his reply Thursday to the Sheahans.
Nellis Air Force Base later released a statement from Jennifer Miller, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, saying, “After exhausting all reasonable efforts to negotiate a sale and the landowners’ rejection of the Air Force’s offers, the Air Force requested the Department of Justice file a condemnation action in Federal District Court.”
She said an appraisal wasn’t made because the Air Force wasn’t permitted to enter the property.
“The Air Force will pay just compensation for the claims as determined by the court based on evidence submitted by the parties. We are proceeding in a manner consistent with the law that will strike an appropriate balance in protecting the rights of the landowners while recognizing the demands of national security,” Miller’s statement said.
The facility and airstrip known as Area 51 are where cutting-edge spy planes and stealth jets have been tested for six decades on restricted government land along the remote Groom Dry Lake bed, 90 miles north of Las Vegas.
Joe Sheahan said the family interpreted the Air Force’s Aug. 11 final-offer letter to be “an ultimatum. It didn’t leave us much room for a counteroffer.”
Joe Sheahan has said the family feels the negotiations have been disingenuous since they learned recently that Air Force officials had received authorization to condemn their property before a meeting to discuss a possible sale of it in 2014.
Nellis officials said, however, that wasn’t the case.