KLAS TV Reporter Richard Urey talks about the expanding border of Area 51 and how a Southern Nevada mine’s owners have been fighting the federal government over land use. Aired on July 11, 1984, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas as “Area 51, The 30 Year Secret.” Part 3 of a 4-part series.
In 1984, Area 51 consisted of 89,000 acres of Southern Nevada land. The main road leading to the secret government facility was built by Pat and Bob Sheehan to get access to the Groom Mine, which their family had owned since the 1800s. Without notice, the Air Force closed off that road with a guard shack and prohibited access to the Sheehans’ mine.
“To find that guard shack blocking our access, it was unreal,” said Bob Sheehan. “The feelings that I had were so violent that I couldn’t relay how I felt really, it was that bad. It was like coming home to your house and having a guard shack on your driveway.”
The Sheehans say the Air Force did not notify them of plans to expand the military reservation to include their property. It was that lack of consideration that prompted them to speak out for the first time against military policy. Often the Sheehans say they were subject to weapons testing on their property. “We put up with strafing for all the way through the war with .50 caliber machine gun bullets. And I mean it was bad if one of them to hit one of us who would have killed us,” recalled Pat Sheehan.
Later the Sheehans built and operated an ore milling plant. In 1953 the plant was blown apart. An explosives expert said it was hit by a missile. Bob blames the Air Force, “We hold the Air Force responsible … in our mind they destroyed it.”
The Sheehans were on their property for numerous atomic tests during the 1950s. Bob says he suffered scarred arms from fallout. They wonder if their mother’s cancer was caused by it.
But it wasn’t until the military’s unannounced plan to seal off the Groom Mountains surfaced several months ago that they demanded compensation.
“We as Americans don’t want to do anything to those people that is going to jeopardize the national security. That’s not why we have made noise. We were put into a corner by those people where we had to do something or lose our interest entirely,” said Bob.
Groom Mountains rancher Steve Midland is also dealing with the government. “They say that it’s never going to make no difference. I’d like to see something in writing saying that. But I haven’t got it yet.”
Lincoln County Commissioner Rick Hardy has concerns as well. “There’s a general distrust out here for the Air Force. That’s probably our biggest concern in the county government is there’s nobody talking to us,” said Hardy.