State Senators this week heard testimony on a bill that would add a layer of restrictions for companies looking to develop near national conservation areas in Nevada.
The bill, which was drafted by Assemblyman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, would apply to a controversial proposed development adjacent to Red Rock National Conservation Area, just west of Las Vegas. As Heidi Kyser, staff writer for Nevada Public Radio's Desert Companion magazine, explained, the bill would create a buffer area around NCAs.
“It would essentially require an environmental impact statement for new projects proposed anywhere within half a mile of the border of National Conservation Areas,” she said.
The environmental impact statement would be similar to what is required by the federal government when building on federally protected land.
There are three NCAs in Nevada, Sloan Canyon, Black Rock Canyon and Red Rock Canyon, which is a natural haven for Las Vegans, who annually flock by the thousands to the mountains to bike, hike and rock climb.
Developer Gypsum Resources has the right to build some 1,200 to 1,400 homes on an operational gypsum mine on Blue Diamond Hill bordering the Red Rock NCA. The developer has indicated, however, a desire to develop 5,000 or more homes on its land.
Opponents are worried that the development would upset the natural quiet and beauty near Red Rock. Kyser said that, during the hearing Monday most people who testified were in favor of the half-mile buffer zone, including an attorney for the city of Henderson. That city's limits border Sloan Canyon, and the attorney said that while the bill could cause extra work and expense for projects proposed in the buffer zone, it would be worth it.
But an attorney for the City of Las Vegas, which extends toward Red Rock, came out against the bill because the city is concerned that it would drive up the cost of any public works projects in the area. The attorney for Las Vegas argued municipalities should be exempt from the regulation.
Another exemption that was discussed would apply to projects that already have finalized development agreements. Assemblyman Yeager called it a "friendly amendment," Kyser said. She expects it will be included in the final bill.
However, if that amendment is added to the final bill it could make an already complicated fight about the Blue Diamond Hill development even more so. Currently, Save Red Rock, a nonprofit group fighting the development, Clark County, and Gypsum Resources are involved in a legal fight. At issue is whether a 2011 concept plan for the property is valid.
"If the judge were to find that Gypsum Resources didn’t fulfill its obligations with the 2011 concept plans to keep it moving forward and basically found that that concept plan is finished, that would mean that Gypsum Resources has no plan in play because they voluntarily withdrew the 2016 plan. That would mean they would have essentially to go back to square one,” Kyser explained, “But if the judge finds that the 2011 concept plan is still valid, then it kind of becomes a timing issue, because AB277, if it became law, would have some exceptions for projects that already have final development agreements.”
The attorney for Save Red Rock believes that even if a judge rules that the 2011 concept plan is valid, it is not a finalized development agreement and therefore not exempted.
But it could take months before the judge makes that determination. The case is winding its way through the courts now. Last week, a judge ruled that Save Red Rock could proceed on five counterclaims, including the question of whether the 2011 concept plan for the development is still valid.
As for the bill, the committee has until May 19 to make a decision. If it is voted out of committee, it will go to the full Senate. If it passes the full Senate, it will go back to Assembly for lawmakers there to vote on any amendments made to it. If it is passed out of Assembly, it will be sent to the governor's desk to be signed into law.
Heidi Kyser, Desert Companion magazine
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