Gov. Steve Sisolak had some sharp words for representatives of tiny Lincoln County who want to recoup some of the expenses they incurred preparing for a worst-case scenario ahead of the Storm Area 51 event this fall.
In spite of 2 million people RSVPing on Facebook to breach the gates of the mystery-shrouded Area 51 in rural Nevada this September, only 3,000 or so came to the rural area — including just a fraction at the actual gates of the military installation — and none of the feared pandemonium materialized. At a Board of Examiners meeting on Tuesday, Sisolak accused the Lincoln County Commission of fanning the flames of the social media frenzy and drawing crowds by formally approving two events to take place around the time of the planned trespass.
“I don’t know how you can say they knew it was coming. They assumed it was coming. With the approval, it was certainly coming. Without the approval, we don’t know who would have shown up,” Sisolak said. “To have the audacity to come back to the state and say, ‘Yep, it wasn’t as many as we thought, but we want you to bail us out for all the money we spent’ — I don’t know how they can possibly expect us to do that.”
Emergency managers from Lincoln County — population just over 5,000 — say preparations for the event cost them close to $130,000 in supplies, and extra man hours on top of that could add up to anywhere between $80,000 and $100,000. Even Sisolak said he spent considerable time with Southern Nevada officials preparing for a chaotic situation in which SWAT teams and helicopters would need to respond to the highly classified Air Force site.
Both Lincoln and Nye counties declared states of emergency ahead of the event, saying they feared crowds that would overwhelm local infrastructure and resources. The declarations are required before the state can consider providing reimbursements for the response.
Sheriff Kerry Lee said the commissioners’ decision to approve two festivals — Alienstock and Area 51 Basecamp — for the weekend of the potential storming was a way to ensure people who showed up to Lincoln County had a place to go for constructive and legal activity. Lee said the events and their private crowd-control preparations helped the county ensure there were enough portable toilets, lights, first responders, water, fuel and trash bins to handle the expected influx.
But Sisolak says county commissioners undermined their case when they gave the green light to the parties.
“If this was the division of expected consequences management I could see you coming forward,” Sisolak said. “That’s not what it is. This is not an emergency.”
Sheriff Kerry Lee said the events took care of their own crowd control expenses, and he’s just seeking money for the response outside the boundaries of the organized festivals — largely around the gates of Area 51 and for around-the-clock staffing. He said he doesn’t think the careful response was a waste, and would rather take the criticism that the county over-prepared than criticism that it was underprepared and something went wrong.
“I feel in my heart we did the right thing,” he said in an interview after the meeting.
The Board of Examiners took no action on the request on Tuesday. Officials from Lincoln County say they will still pursue the reimbursement.