Blue Diamond Hill isn’t in Nevada Assembly District 9, represented in the current legislative session by Clark County Democrat Steve Yeager. Neither is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, or NCA. Nevertheless, Yeager has taken up the cause of protecting Red Rock’s natural attributes through a bill that, in its current form, would require developers who want to build within half a mile of NCAs to go through an official environmental review. If it passed, the law would apply to Gypsum Resources’ controversial proposed development on top of Blue Diamond Hill.
Yeager believes his residency is, to some extent, beside the point, since everyone in Clark County benefits from Red Rock, either by visiting it themselves or by enjoying the economic impact of tourists who recreate there — or both. And, he adds, his constituents along Blue Diamond Road and South Durango Drive are concerned that traffic from a community of 5,000 homes with only one access road (connecting to Blue Diamond Road), such as the one Gypsum has proposed, would clog their daily commute. Incidentally, Assemblyman James Oscarson, the Republican whose district does include Blue Diamond Hill, cosponsors Yeager’s bill.
In its current form, the legislation is significantly different from the original proposal that drew dozens of public comments at a March 30 hearing conducted simultaneously in Las Vegas and Carson City. The original bill would have banned development within five miles of an NCA outright, which Yeager, on second thought, decided wasn’t such a great idea. Here, he elaborates on the bill’s evolution, and talks about how it would affect the state if it passed in the Assembly, which he expects to hear it today.
This amendment represents quite a change from the original bill, doesn’t it?
Yeah, it does. But the beauty of the amendment, I think, is that it keeps the spirit of the original bill, which is to make sure that on land adjacent to these natural areas we're not building without any checks and balances. But it does it in a better way, in the sense that it's not an outright freeze on anyone's rights to develop, so it takes away that potential issue. If someone has a piece of property, to say to them, “You're frozen and can't do anything with that land” — it seemed to me on reflection that it was a little unfair to do that. So, they have to go through additional steps to make sure we're protecting these lands and the environment, but they're not frozen from doing anything at all.
And they have to do that in a half-mile buffer zone, or “adjacent lands overlay,” as the bill calls it.
Yes. In the original bill, it was a 5-mile freeze. That would have covered most of Southern Nevada. If you look at it on a map, it spread way out into the valley. And it certainly wasn't my intent to stymie economic development in the state, so I'm happy with where the amendment took us.
How did the switch from banning development to requiring an environmental impact study come about?
From sitting down and thinking about the bill. I've had a lot of interest in the bill from many different people. I've had a lot of input about what a freeze would mean versus other approaches. I thought this up in talking with my legal counsel at the Legislature and asking whether there was there something else we could do to add protection without changing the rules or freezing development. We didn't pattern it off anything. We did, in drafting the language about the environmental review process, look at federal guidelines and regulations for environmental impact statements.
Your bill doesn't specifically mention Gypsum’s proposed Blue Diamond project, but the law would apply to that development, correct?
That project already has zoning for low density. So, they could already build that project as zoned now, but what this (law) would say is, if you were trying to increase the zoning in some way, then you'd have to go through the process as outlined, which includes an environmental impact statement and some factors for the County Commission to consider before it could approve any changes in zoning.
Who else would be affected?
Projects within half a mile of NCAs, of which there are three: Black Rock, Sloan Canyon and Red Rock. The adjacent lands half-mile perimeter does not apply to National Recreation Areas, which, in Nevada, are Lake Mead and Spring Mountain. We didn't do an adjacent lands perimeter for those, because the philosophy of recreation areas is different — it includes recreational usage by the public.
What would you say to those who argue that a buffer is already (or should be) included within the protected area itself?
I think I just disagree with that. The way this bill works, we're looking at half a mile. We don't want unchecked development right up to the edge of the NCA. I think I might buy that argument if this were an outright freeze, but I don't think it's unrealistic to require the zoning authority to do a little more in the way of analyzing these projects, to make sure the half-mile perimeter area is protected as well.
So, if I understand your intent correctly, it's to require local governments — whoever has zoning authority over land up to the edge of the federally protected area — to keep anything they approve there in harmony with the NCA itself?
Yes. For Red Rock, that would be Clark County. For Sloan Canyon, it would be Henderson. I can't recall right now who it is for Black Rock, but I don't think there's much in the way of anticipated development on the perimeter of Black Rock other than one mine. But those local governments already have zoning authority right up to the NCA. I wanted to keep that authority with the local government, where the zoning decisions are already made, and I wanted to make sure we're doing that in a responsible way and in keeping with the character of the area.
So, again, getting back to the proposed development on the edge of Red Rock, Gypsum says it has already done a lot of environmental study for that project. So, they would just have to show that it fulfills these criteria outlined in the law?
I'm not sure what they've done. We do say (in the bill) that if you've already done an EIS for the federal government, you can use that to satisfy these criteria. If they haven't, then they'd have to provide that to the County Commission before any zoning change could be approved. That's the real beauty of this legislation. If indeed they've already done that work, and they're on solid ground in terms of the environmental impact of this project, then they just have to submit that work to the County Commission to make that decision.
Does this satisfy Save Red Rock, the huge and very vocal nonprofit that's protesting the Blue Diamond Hill development?
I have not heard directly from them. I didn't coordinate with them on the bill. I drafted this last piece of legislation on my own. Obviously, that is the best-known example of a conflict, but the legislation was drafted to make sure we're looking at all these areas. But based on the reception I've received on social media, and the hearing we had in Las Vegas on the original bill, I'd say they’ve been very supportive. I've received positive feedback that Save Red Rock and the conservation community in general is happy with the added protection and guidance for local governments to protect the areas they value.
How much time do you spend in Red Rock?
Not as much as I'd like these days. Life has gotten quite a bit busier with the session. Normally, though, a couple times a month. I'm more of a hiker than mountain biker, but just get out there to go hiking, I'd say I do it every couple weeks. And of course, when I have family in town, you make the obligatory trip to the Red Rock Scenic Loop.
Given that, how do you feel about your proposed law?
I think what we've come up with in the amendment is significant in terms of added protections, but it's a piece of legislation that's defensible in court, and gets away from problems of the previous legislation. I feel it strikes a balance between respecting property rights and protecting the environment, especially in our valuable national conservation areas.