Air Force pressure to take over Sheahan family’s Groom Lake Mine
The Sheahan family has owned and worked land that borders Area 51’s Groom Lake for over 130 years. During that time, the family has literally lived with America’s closely guarded secrets in their backyard while they operated their family-owned lead, copper, zinc, gold and silver mine – the Groom Lake Mine. Of course, the U.S. government has not been pleased with their presence so near the top-secret facility. Since Area 51 (officially the Nevada Test and Training Range) opened over 60 years ago, the government has pressured the family to leave the land. Now the family is speaking out, insisting the the land surrounding the mine is theirs to keep.
Joe Sheahan, Groom Mine co-owner, told reporters:
“From our great-great-grandfather, to our grandfathers, to our fathers, they were raised there. This was their home.”
But not all of their years’ operating a mine on the border of America’s hush-hush facility has been pleasant. Around 1962, the Sheahan patriarch and matriarch both died of cancer attributed to their location 38 miles upwind of Yucca Flats – where the Atomic Energy Commission tested their first nuclear bombs. The Sheahan family says the bombs exploded with such force that they blew the doors inward off of their hinges and caused windows to explode. Today the U.S. government has changed their up-until-now polite stance toward the family – and has asked them, in no uncertain terms, to vacate the premises – immediately.
Air Force offers Sheahans’ $5.2 million for their mine
On August 28, 2015, Air Force officials announced that the family had been offered $5.2 million to sell their stake in the land including mineral rights on 300 acres of land and property rights on 100 acres. The Air Force claims the family’s activities over the past several years have cramped its efforts to use the range for flight tests such as the tests that have spawned the nation’s stealth aircraft program at Area 51. At first the Sheahan family declined to comment on the incident but later publicly revealed that the battle for control of their land has been ongoing for many years. Ben Sheahan told reporters:
“My grandfather and my grandmother, Dan and Martha Sheahan, were destroyed at the hands of this government. They went to the poorhouse trying to win their case of the mill that was destroyed by the Air Force. We have some evidence they absolutely were the culprits in that, and it was never addressed. They literally ran our grandparents out of money trying to fight them.”
Dan Sheahan further explained why the family has chosen to go public,
“First, we really didn’t want to come public, but the Air Force has forced us into it. We want ’em to know what they have done over the last 60 years to our family is not acceptable. These were fired over our property. The bullets, the cases dropped on the ground right there and then.”
The family’s attorney says the battle had proven to be an unfair hardship for the family:
“It’s been a constant battle since area 51 opened up and started testing. The family’s mill was bombed and put them out of business. They have been affected by radiation and been threatened with machine guns … The Air Force has made attempts to purchase the land but at a fraction of the worth.”
The Air Force claims that they have been trying to convince the family to leave the property since the early 1980’s and said that “for a variety of reasons no resolution was reached.”
Living with Area 51 neighbors
How close is the family’s property to Area 51? Within easy visual site of the facility (see 37°20’24.18″N, 115°46’7.18″W) – only a few miles away. In fact, when the family leaves or exits the property, they are required to notify the Air Force who promptly shut down testing until the family has passed through. This unusual position occurred after the Air Force withdrew 89,000 acres of land from the public leaving the Sheahan’s property “an island” with little egress for entry. According to the Air Force:
“The family are entitled to access to their property, and their short-notice access to a secure range area requires that scheduled test missions be halted and rescheduled at significant cost to the government. Civilian presence within the confines of this active test and training range represents both a safety and security risk. Whenever people are present on this parcel of land, test and training activities cannot take place, resulting in a significant negative impact on the Air Force programs and missions.”
“I didn’t create this mess, they did,” Sheahan said. “They surrounded us. We’re tired of running, tired of hiding.”
According to Jennifer Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force installation,
“We understand the landowners’ connection to the land, but we must also consider the demands of national security.”
Joe Sheahan disagrees and says the Air Force is to blame for the dilemma.
“We’re interrupting their operations? Really? We didn’t parachute into their backyard. They parachuted into our backyard.”
Sheahan explained how security tightened around their land after they refused to be bought out.
“They placed a security shack on the road that our grandfather built for access to our own property and started requiring us to go through their checkpoints in order to gain access.”
Sheahan family declines the Air Force’s offer
On August 31, 2015, the Sheahan family declined the Air Force offer saying “we want to keep our property”. Of course, that was not to be the final word. 54-year-old Joe Sheahan says the Air Force has threatened to take control of their property through eminent domain on September 10 if the family does not accept the offer. His cousins Ben Sheahan, 56, Danny Sheahan, 58, and Barbara Sheahan Manning, 59, — all from Henderson — said their stake in the combined 400 acres of property and unpatented mining claims is worth considerably more, not counting the reparations they say they are owed by the Air Force and Department of Energy for “abuses and atrocities” that date back to the early 1950s. That’s when they said their ore processing mill was fire-bombed by a jet’s wing fuel tank (a city fire inspector’s letter confirmed that “a foreign object or device may have been instrumental” in the fire) and their property was showered with radioactive fallout from numerous above-ground nuclear weapons tests.
The family also says that the Air Force has even used a “show of force” to intimidate the family. Most recently, when some family members visited the property in the restricted area, as the Air Force has allowed them to do about once a month, guards held them at gunpoint, including a 7-year-old girl who was “distraught when the family car was stopped and a gun was pointed in their direction”.
Did the Sheahan family release photos of the mine?
Although not damaging from a government-secrets perspective, a series of new photos purported to be of Groom Lake Mine, appeared on the Internet – some with Groom Lake clearly visible in the background (see pictorial below). Some theorized that the Sheahan family could take quite a bit of heat if it is found that that had knowledge of the photos being taken on their property.
Air Force Official Response
Release Number: 280815
8/28/2015 – NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — The Air Force has submitted its final offer to purchase private property within the boundaries of the Nevada Test and Training Range.
The land has become an increasingly greater safety and security risk as demand for test and training opportunities have increased.
The Air Force attempted to conduct operations while the owners used the property for decades, much of it amicably. However, over the past several years the desired activities of the family and operations on the NTTR have become less and less compatible. The property’s location inside the NTTR and the increasing national security demands have made it impossible for the Air Force to test and train securely and safely while civilians are present.
“We are hopeful the family will accept our final offer to purchase roughly 100 acres of owned property and about 300 acres of unpatented mine claims for $5.2 million,” said Jennifer Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations. “We understand the landowners’ connection to the land, but we must also consider the demands of national security.”
This recent offer marks the end of a series of meetings with the land owners in an effort to negotiate a purchase price for the property.
“The Air Force has worked hard to be a responsible neighbor by actively working with the landowners and local neighbors to ensure our evolving missions and communities grew in a compatible, mutually beneficial manner,” said Col. Thomas Dempsey, Commander, Nevada Test and Training Range Wing.
“But in this case, the Air Force has exhausted all reasonable options to reach a settlement with the land owners.”
Dempsey said as active stewards of ensuring national security and protecting the environment, purchasing this land will allow them to safely execute the mission and secure the site for the family to continue to visit.
The NTTR supports the Department of Defense advanced composite force training, tactics development and electronic combat testing, as well as DOD and Department of Energy testing, research and development. The range hosts numerous Red Flag and U.S. Air Force Weapons School exercises each year, as well as various test and tactics development missions.
“The Nevada Test and Training range is a unique national asset because the size and remoteness of the area enables military test and training activities that cannot be completed in other national training areas,” Dempsey said. “Over the years, national security demands and technology development have increased demand for the Nevada Test and Training Range assets and the Air Force has developed infrastructure that directly supports range activities that cannot be replicated elsewhere.”
Test and training customers fund manpower, travel and range support costs to execute their planned missions. When those missions are cancelled to address safety and security risks caused by incompatible land use, much of the funding is already spent, but the test or training customer does not execute their mission and must schedule and fund another time on the range, he said. More than 40,000 sorties are flown over the range each year, and national security demands are forecasted to increase that number.
“Mission cancellations on the NTTR due to incompatible land use cost millions of dollars per year,” Dempsey said. “These lost opportunities and delays result in increased national security costs to the taxpayer.”
The NTTR is the largest contiguous air and ground space available for peacetime military operations, occupying 2.9 million acres of land, 5,000 square miles of airspace which is restricted from civilian air traffic over-flight, and another 7,000 square miles of military operating area, which is shared with civilian aircraft.
Area 51 – Sheahan Groom Lake Mine documents
Area 51 – Sheahan mine pictorial
Below are pictures of the Groom Lake Mine including a few newly-released photos that were leaked via Usenet bulletin boards.