Newspaper column: EPA Repeals Obama-Era Land Use Restrictions

Trump’s EPA rolls back Obama-era Clean Water Act rules. (AP pix via WSJ)

The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency has finalized the repeal of yet another Obama-era regulatory overreach, specifically rules that defined every stream, ditch, seasonal puddle and muddy hoof print as being covered by the restrictions of the Clean Water Act of 1972 that was intended to prohibit pollutants being dumped into navigable waters — known as the waters of the United States or WOTUS.

First announced in December but finalized this past week, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said, “Our revised and more precise definition will mean that farmers, property owners and businesses will spend less time and money determining whether they need a federal permit.”

When the change was first proposed, Wheeler said, “Property owners will be able to stand on their property and determine what is federal water without having to hire outside professionals.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Jennifer Houston issued a statement applauding the change.

“The 2015 WOTUS Rule was an illegal effort by the federal government to assert control over both land and water, significantly impacting our ability to implement vital conservation practices,” Houston said. “After years spent fighting the 2015 WOTUS Rule in the halls of Congress, in the Courts, and at the EPA, cattle producers will sleep a little easier tonight knowing that the nightmare is over.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall released a statement saying, “No regulation is perfect, and no rule can accommodate every concern, but the 2015 rule was especially egregious. We are relieved to put it behind us. We are now working to ensure a fair and reasonable substitute that protects our water and our ability to work and care for the land. Farm Bureau’s multi-year effort to raise awareness of overreaching provisions was powered by thousands of our members who joined with an array of allies to achieve this victory for clear rules to ensure clean water.”

The National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of Manufacturers also praised the repeal of the WOTUS overreach, according to The Wall Street Journal, which noted that roughly 25 percent of every dollar spent on a new home in this country is due to regulatory-compliance costs.

The change brings the EPA more in line with what the U.S. Supreme Court has said is appropriate. In 2010 the Hawkes Co., which mines peat for use on golf courses among other things, applied for a permit to mine peat on a 530-acre tract of property it owns in Minnesota. The Army Corps of Engineers told the company they would have to do numerous tests that would cost more than $100,000. The Corps said the wetlands had a “significant nexus” to the Red River of the North, located some 120 miles away. Failure to comply carried a threat of fines amounting to $37,000 a day and criminal prosecution.

In a concurring opinion in that case, Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, said that the EPA and Corps “ominous reach” on interpreting the Clean Water Act “continues to raise troubling questions regarding the Government’s power to cast doubt on the full use and enjoyment of private property throughout the Nation.”

Chief Justice John Roberts during arguments noted the arduousness of compliance. He said a specialized individual permit, such as the one sought by Hawkes, on average costs $271,596 and 788 days to complete, not counting any mitigation costs that might be required. He said the permitting process can be “arduous, expensive, and long.” He failed to mention that is also often futile.

Then-Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who along with 22 other attorneys general filed an amicus brief in this case, applauded the judgment at that time, saying, “The Obama administration seems determined to move as far and as fast as possible to unilaterally change our constitutional system and our congressional laws. … Fortunately in this case, our checks and balances have protected Nevadans from truly unprecedented federal overreach.”

Nevada’s current Democratic Attorney General is being quoted by the press as saying, “At this time, Nevada believes it would be in its best interest to remain under the pre-2015 WOTUS rule,” and the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection is said to agree.

Though this change in the rules used by the EPA is welcome, some future administration could easily overturn them. Congress needs to act to clarify the Clean Water Act. Previously, the House and Senate passed resolutions that would have blocked the EPA water rules, but in January 2016 the Senate failed to override Obama’s veto.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

 

Newspaper column: Sisolak opposed tighter food stamp rules

Governors of these states oppose changes in food stamp eligibility rules.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has joined 16 other Democratic governors to pen a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue demanding that a proposed change in the rules for food stamp eligibility be dropped.

This summer the Agriculture Department unveiled plans to tighten eligibility requirements for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Instead of allowing states to automatically issue food stamps to anyone receiving any federal welfare benefits, households would be eligible only if they receive at least $50 a month for six months or more from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” Secretary Perdue said in a statement. The food stamp program uses federal money but it is administered by states and local governments.

According to press accounts, the change in rules would drop 3 million of the 36 million people currently receiving food stamps and save taxpayers billions of dollars a year.

“If this rule takes effect, hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries across the United States, including 46,000 individuals right here in Nevada, would lose access to basic food assistance,” Gov. Sisolak said in a press release announcing opposition to the change. “This is an absolutely unconscionable act that would have dire impacts on the most vulnerable populations in our state, especially those with disabilities, the elderly, and low-income children on free and reduced-price school meals.”

The governor said the change would result in a loss of nearly $10 million a month for the Nevada economy, though the Foundation for Government Accountability estimates such a change could save Nevada taxpayers $77 million a year and the nation as much as $7 billion a year.

The governors’ letter states, “We shouldn’t be making it harder for struggling Americans to make ends meet and put food on the table — which is what this proposed regulation would do. As governors, we strongly urge you to rescind this proposed rule.”

The letter also complains that the change would mean higher administrative costs for states, though a couple of paragraphs later the letter claims that to qualify for food stamps all households are subject to an interview and must provide “thorough documentation to demonstrate that their monthly income and expenses, such as housing and child care costs, leave them with not enough income to afford access to adequate food.” The letter also claims there is no evidence the current eligibility rule leads to an increase in food stamps being directed to ineligible households.

Actually, this past year a Minnesota millionaire testified before his state’s legislature that — to prove a point — he applied and received $300 a month in food stamps for 19 months. Though he had property and assets in excess of a million dollars, he technically had no income. He said he gave an equivalent amount to charity.

Democratic lawmakers in Washington also oppose the tightening of eligibility rules, The Wall Street Journal quotes Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York as saying, “To cut money for people who need to be fed is just another example of the heartlessness of this administration,” adding that lawmakers will try to beat back the proposal.

“As governors, we urge you to rescind this rule to preserve the flexibility needed to meet the food and nutrition needs of the low-income populations in our states,” the governors’ letter concludes. “We should be working together, at the state and national levels, with the common goals of protecting and supporting the most vulnerable among us, ensuring all children have healthy food on their plates, and making every effort to ensure all families have the opportunity to transition out of poverty and achieve the American dream.”

The governors are arguing for wasting taxpayer dollars on people who do not truly qualify for assistance under the original intent of the law. The current lax rules waste billions of taxpayer dollars.

Other governors signing the letter include those of the states of Michigan, Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Annual Basque Fry will tout conservative values

Adam Laxalt addresses the 2017 Basque Fry. (R-J file pix

With Democrats holding strong majorities in the Nevada state Senate and Assembly, as well as every statewide constitutional office save one, there seems to be a sense of urgency about this year’s fifth annual Basque Fry coming Sept. 14 at the Corley Ranch in Gardnerville.

The conservative speakers, family entertainment and lamb fries fest is put on by Adam Laxalt’s Morning in Nevada PAC and is modeled after the Basque Fries his grandfather Paul Laxalt, a former Nevada governor and U.S. senator, used to conduct in Nevada and Washington. Adam Laxalt is the state’s former attorney general and was the Republican candidate for governor in 2018.

“We’re very excited about the fifth annual Basque Fry,” Laxalt said during a recent interview. “We’re fortunate this event has taken permanent hold in Northern Nevada. We expect a very large crowd again and think a lot of people are going to be very enthusiastic about it. We’ve talked, leading to the event, about the importance of trying to take back our state and we plan on discussing that at the Basque Fry.”

The list of scheduled speakers include Mick Mulvaney, acing White House chief of staff; Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union, and his wife Mercedes Schlapp, a former White House director of communications; Matthew Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney general; Corey Lewandowski, who served as President Trump’s campaign manager; John Fund, a columnist for the National Review; Katie Williams, who had her Miss Nevada crown taken away for expressing conservative political views; and, of course, Laxalt.

Laxalt said he expects he and other speakers will highlight how radical and left-wing the Democratic Party and its presidential candidates have become, saying their positions do not align with Nevada values and are not good for our state.

“Some of our Democrats kind of hide out and they are not put on the record whether they are going to denounce these things or whether they support them,” he said. “So, I think it is important to get these positions on the record and in the public consciousness of Nevadans, so they understand what the Democratic Party represents today. The old blue-collar, fairly conservative Democratic Party that existed in Nevada a few decades ago, maybe even closer than that, is long gone. So we have to draw that contrast for everyday voters, especially swing voters in our state.”

Laxalt cited for example the Democratic position supporting open borders and denigrating the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and the laws they are duty bound to enforce.

He also expects the topic of media bias to be addressed. “It’s just frustrating, because for me it is the rule of law. I think that’s what has made our country unique and is an essential piece of what made America the greatest country in modern times. The other side will ignore the rule of law whenever it is politically expedient for them, and they rarely have the media holding them accountable for that kind of thing,” he said.

This year the Basque Fry is being held in conjunction with the Conservative Political Action Conference West, which is being put on by the American Conservative Union at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno the day before.

Laxalt said it is important for conservatives to build policy infrastructure. “To have such a nationally reputable organization like the American Conservative Union and CPAC to come to Nevada and create a CPAC West, I think is going to be great for us,” he said. “We need to rebuild the conservative intellectual base in this state, which we know was not encouraged in the last many years or supported. I think it is important that message is getting out and that people understand there is a strong alternative to progressivism, leftism, socialism, et cetera.”

One of the panels at CPAC West will address the Western lands policies over the past few decades, which have hampered the economic wellbeing of rural communities.

Laxalt concluded by saying, “This type of event is important to encourage people to engage, and if we don’t engage we will lose this state and we will lose this country. Unfortunately, many of our voters they don’t have politics as a hobby. They are raising families and running small businesses and things like that. It is just very hard to get people engaged in this otherwise ugly business, but we need people to get more engaged. I still feel confident if we get more and more people into the system, then we can win back this state.”

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Addition: Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is also speaking at the Basque Fry.

 

Newspaper column: Water agency should not skirt law and courts

Clark County has sent to Congress a bill draft proposing that more than 50,000 acres of federal public land in the Las Vegas Valley be opened for private development, but dangling like a vestigial tail at the end of the 21-page proposal is an end-run around the courts and the law that could allow the currently stalled rural water grab by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) to take place.

In 2017 a federal judge ruled that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) could grant the water agency right-of-way for a 300-mile network of pipelines to take groundwater beneath White Pine, Lincoln and Nye counties, but first it had to come up with plans to mitigate the potential loss of wildlife habitat due to a draw down of the water table, as is required by the CleanWater Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

That task may be impossible, because federal studies show the interconnected aquifers are already at equilibrium — water that is already being drawn from the aquifers is being replaced gallon for gallon annually with no leeway for additional withdrawal. The water agency proposes to withdraw 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year.

The lands bill Clark County sent to Congress calls for the Interior Department to give the water authority rights-of-way for an electric power line that “shall be subject only to the terms, conditions and stipulations identified in the existing rights-of-way, and shall not be subject to further administrative or judicial review. The right-of-way shall be granted in perpetuity and shall not require the payment of rental fees.”

A right-of-way for a power line could easily accommodate pipelines, too.

The Great Basin Water Network (GBWN) — a coalition of conservationists, rural officials, tribes and agricultural interests which was one of the parties that successfully sued to block the water grab — is crying foul over the decision to try to skirt the law and the federal judge’s ruling with legislation.

“What that decision tells us is that SNWA and federal land managers cannot figure out how to mitigate a project that would –– when fully built –– destroy 305 springs, 112 miles of streams, 8,000 acres of wetlands, and 191,000 acres of shrubland habitat on public lands, according to the BLM,” GBWN and others write in a letter to Nevada’s congressional delegation. “In the path of this destruction is Nevada’s first national park, Great Basin, which hosts the state’s only glacier, supports magnificent stands of ancient bristlecone pines, and dazzles visitors with a majestic network of limestone caves.”

In a press release announcing its opposition to the bill draft, Kyle Roerink, GBWN’s executive director, stated, “SNWA is trying to re-write the laws to allow their destructive pipeline and remove barriers that were enacted to protect Nevadans and their public resources. Members of the delegation should not do SNWA’s dirty work by gutting bedrock environmental protections to pave the way for a project that will kill endangered species, mine groundwater, and siphon away Eastern Nevada’s future in return for sprawl.”

Roerink also noted the opponents have been fighting the water grab for 30 years.

If it goes forward, it is estimated the groundwater project will take 40 years to complete at a cost of $15 billion — a cost that would require the tripling of water rates in Clark County. According to an SNWA resource plan the water is not needed until 2035.

“Its gargantuan $15 billion price tag (in 2011 dollars) highlights SNWA’s blatant disregard for its own ratepayers –– many of whom live on low or fixed incomes,” Roerink argues. “Those costs could mean water bills skyrocketing in Las Vegas while wildlife, landscapes, businesses, local governments and tribes suffer in Eastern Nevada.”

In his 2017 ruling federal Judge Andrew Gordon noted the importance of the controversy to both sides of the issue, writing, “I am sensitive to the strong feelings and weighty interests at stake in this contest over Nevada’s water — after all, in the West, ‘whisky’s for drinkin’ and water’s for fightin’ over.’ There can be no question that drawing this much water from these desert aquifers will harm the ecosystem and impact cultural sites that are important to our citizens. On the other hand, southern Nevada faces an intractable water shortage.”

Our congressional delegation should allow Clark County to develop land within its boundaries, but should not grant this proposed end-run around the courts and the law to slake its thirst.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: New endangered species rule falsely maligned

When the Interior Department released new rules for enforcing the 45-year-old Endangered Species Act (ESA) this past week, self-styled environmentalists and many in the news media falsely maligned the changes, saying they would require the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider economic impact in deciding whether to list a species as endangered or threatened.

In fact, the press release announcing the finalizing of the new rules specifically states that designations will be based solely on the “best available scientific and commercial information” as the original law dictates. The change simply allows the public to be informed of economic impacts created by the law by removing the phrase “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination.”

The rule change proposal noted, “Since 1982, Congress has consistently expressed support for informing the public as to the impacts of regulations in subsequent amendments to statutes and executive orders governing the rulemaking process.” The only change is giving the public more information.

“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal — recovery of our rarest species. The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in the press release. “An effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto reacted on Twitter: “Trump’s gutting of the Endangered Species Act — even as species struggle with the effects of the #ClimateCrisis & human activity — threatens protected species & could put even more plants and animals at risk.”

The rule changes actually should help address a fundamental problem with the enforcement of the ESA up until now — that it focuses almost entirely on limiting any conceivable profitable use of land or water that is “critical habitat” of an endangered or threatened species, thus maintaining a fragile status quo rather than actually encouraging recovery of the species population.

The Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), which refers to itself as the home of free market environmentalism, reports that more than 1,600 species are listed under the ESA, but only 39 species have been determined to be recovered since the law passed (half of those mistakenly listed in the first place), while 11 have become extinct. Nevada has 16 endangered species and 11 threatened.

Previously, when states tried to reintroduce endangered species by breeding, the federal government threatened to sue, saying possession of the species required a federal permit, which it refused to issue.

Another significant change requires that when designating critical habitat that the species is actually present or the area has features essential to the species’ conservation.

This addresses issues raised by a Supreme Court case out of Louisiana in which the owner of 1,500 acres of land was prohibited from using the property because it was declared critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog, even though none of the frogs had been seen in the area for 50 years and the land itself could no longer support the frogs.

The case was finally settled in July in the property owner’s favor. 

Mark Miller, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation which sued on behalf of the landowners, said of the agreement, “This federal frog feud is over, and property rights and good government win. The government tried to ban development of 1,500 acres of private property at a cost of $34 million in the name of an endangered frog that does not live on the property and cannot survive there. The feds may as well have labeled this Louisiana property critical habitat for a polar bear. It would have done just as much good.”

Also, in the future a species listed as threatened would not be treated as stringently as those listed as endangered, as currently is the case. 

Advocates of the changes say this will provide incentives for landowners to help species recover. In the past, landowners confronted with restrictions under the ESA were said to have been incentivized to shoot, shovel and shut up. No species. No restrictions. 

“Our interest is getting this landmark wildlife protection law to work better,” said PERC’s executive director Brian Yablonski in a statement. “That means fostering conditions so landowners become more enthusiastic in their role as stewards for species recovery, not worried if they find an endangered species on their land. States and landowners will respond better to carrots, not clubs, in our efforts to improve species recovery results.” 

Delisting of species is preferable to merely maintaining the status quo in perpetuity.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Trump call for unity met with derision, slurs

Lisa Benson cartoon

The campaign rhetoric is being brandished like a flame thrower, scorching the stump with recriminations, incriminations, insinuations and denunciations.

In the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton that left 32 dead and dozens more seriously wounded, Democratic presidential candidates unsheathed accusations that President Trump is the prime mover of such lunatic behavior, calling him a racist and a white supremacist.

“In both clear language and in code, this president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation,” former Vice President Joe Biden said in a speech. “Trump offers no moral leadership, no interest in unifying the nation, no evidence the presidency has awakened his conscience in the least.”

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts senator, told The New York Times that Trump is a white supremacist who has “done everything he can to stir up racial conflict and hatred in this country.”

She added, “Donald Trump has a central message. He says to the American people, if there’s anything wrong in your life, blame them — and ‘them’ means people who aren’t the same color as you, weren’t born where you were born, don’t worship the same way you do.”

Meanwhile, candidate and former El Paso Rep. Robert “Beto” O’Rourke said Trump has made it “very clear” that he is a white supremacist who has “dehumanized or sought to dehumanize those who do not look like or pray like the majority here in this country,” according to Salon.

Candidate and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker noted that both the El Paso shooter and Trump described illegal immigration as an invasion. Booker said, “The character and the culture of who we are hangs in the balance. We can’t let these conversations devolve into the impotent simplicity of who is or isn’t a racist. The real question isn’t who is or isn’t a racist, but who is or isn’t doing something about it.”

Socialist candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was quoted as saying, “We have a president who is an overt racist and xenophobe. He should stay away from El Paso. What he should do right now is end his anti-immigrant rhetoric.”

The target of this vitriol, meanwhile, addressed the nation from the White House in a 10-minute speech calling for unity. “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul,” Trump implored.

The president called for a change in the American culture to “stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence.”

He concluded, “Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside — so destructive — and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion, and love. Our future is in our control.”

The parsing of words was so overwrought that when The New York Times accurately reported in a headline in its first edition the next day that “Trump urges unity vs. racism,” the self-styled social justice warriors stampeded online.

Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York tweeted, “Let this front page serve as a reminder of how white supremacy is aided by — and often relies upon — the cowardice of mainstream institutions.” Many threatened to cancel subscriptions.

In the next edition of the newspaper, the headline read, “Assailing hate but not guns.” All Trump had said was, “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

As for blaming Trump for the El Paso shooter’s deeds, the shooter himself wrote in his rambling and demented screed posted online by the Drudge Report, “My ideology has not changed for several years. My opinions on automation, immigration, and the rest predate Trump and his campaign for president. I putting this here because some people will blame the President or certain presidential candidates for the attack. This is not the case. I know that the media will probably call me a white supremacist anyway and blame Trump’s rhetoric. The media is infamous for fake news. Their reaction to this attack will likely just confirm that.”

Pay no heed to the fact the Dayton shooter was an avowed socialist supporter of Sanders and Warren.

It is hard to create unity when so many who claim to want to lead this country are so divisive and obdurate. They see calls for unity as divisive. Look in the mirror.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Advocate for West appointed acting head of BLM

BLM land in Nevada (BLM pix)

The self-styled cactus hugging collectivists are aghast.

This past week Interior Secretary David Bernhardt named William Perry Pendley of Wyoming acting head of the Bureau of Land Management, which controls 63 percent of the land in Nevada, the largest portion of the 87 percent of the state land controlled by various federal agencies.

Pendley, who worked in the Interior Department under President Reagan, has actually advocated selling off public lands instead of holding onto them in perpetuity.

A group calling itself the Western Values Project called Pendley dangerous and an extremist. Its executive director, Chris Saeger, was quoted as saying, “This appointment shows Trump and Bernhardt are only interested in selling off public lands to the highest bidder. Pendley is an outspoken advocate for the transfer of public lands to the state. Anything they’ve ever said about not selling off public lands has just been a political smokescreen to distract from their real intentions: handing over public lands to their special interest allies.”

William Perry Pendley

What Pendley has advocated is adhering to the intentions of the Founders, who fully intended for all lands owned by the federal government be sold. In an article in the National Review in 2016, Pendley argues that Article I of the Constitution “gives Congress unlimited power ‘to dispose of’ its property, but sharply limits its rulemaking authority to ‘needful Rules and Regulations.’ The Supreme Court correctly and narrowly interpreted the Property Clause in 1845, holding that the clause gave rise to a constitutional duty to dispose of its land holdings.”

Though opponents of selling off federal lands point to the Disclaimer Clauses that are found in verbiage covering admission of new states to the Union — in which the states “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public land lying within” the new state’s boundary — the new head of the BLM says the provision was included simply to assure the clear title of the United States so the land could be sold.

In fact, Nevada’s admission document contains a Disclaimer Clause, but also states that the land “shall be sold,” with 5 percent of proceeds going to the state. Thus, the original intention seems pretty clear. Obtain clear title. Sell the land. Divide the proceeds.