Sheahan’s Last Stand

Sheahan’s Last Stand

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  • Jul, 17 , 23

Dreamland by Peter W. Merlin is the most detailed, authoritative history of the US military test facility known as “Area 51.” Area 51 is located near Groom Lake, a remote salt flat in the Nevada desert. Although the area has never been heavily populated, there was a small mining operation that operated on and off from the late 19th century and into the 21st century. Groom Mine sat on a roughly 400-acre property that was owned by the Sheahan family from 1885 until 2015. How the end of Sheahan ownership came to be is an interesting story, which is explained in Dreamland.

From their Groom Mine property, the Sheahans could look directly onto the Air Force flight-testing facility. The property was not regularly occupied after 1952, around the same time the Air Force activity in the area was picking up. In the 1980s, the government seized much of the area around the mine, and the Sheahans were required to pass through a security screening every time they wished to visit. Still, the family gathered at the site frequently, which drew the ire of the Air Force.

The family had to pass through security to reach their property, so the Air Force always knew when they were present, and for security purposes there could not be any flying when the Sheahans were home. The Sheahans often visited without notice, causing last-minute cancellations of flights, which were costly and annoying to the Air Force.

In April 2014, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Real Estate Transaction Division offered the Sheahans $2.4 million for the entire property. The family’s legal council advised that the land was worth much more, maybe even over $100 million; the Air Force’s offer was rejected. The Air Force submitted a counteroffer of $5.2 million, with a deadline to accept by September 10, 2015. The Sheahans rejected and made no counteroffer. On September 16, the Justice Department condemned the property and seized it from the Sheahans via eminent domain. The seizure did provide for compensation to be determined by the impending valuation of the property, but the government appraised it for just $333,300.

The subsequent legal battle is described in a subchapter of Dreamland titled “Sheahan’s Last Stand.”

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