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July 29, 2014

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Sheep horning in on Boulder City’s highway bypass plans

Disagreement between state and federal agencies over the impact on bighorn sheep from the proposed highway around Boulder City has the project at an impasse, city leaders said Thursday.

Councilman Roger Tobler and Mayor Bob Ferraro said the Environmental Protection Agency notified the state Transportation Department -- which in turn informed the city earlier this week -- that the federal agency would not support the proposed route of the so-called Boulder City bypass.

Tobler said the federal agency was most concerned about the highway's impact on the migration area of bighorn sheep and said that the state's proposed "critter crossings" were not enough.

The bypass, which would give Hoover Dam traffic a highway route around Boulder City, is proposed to include crossings, in some cases tunnel-like passages under the highway, to give the sheep a safe way to cross the highway.

Ferraro said federal officials are also concerned about potential storm water runoff problems from the bypass, which would go south of Boulder City.

In August, Boulder City's federal lobbyist on the matter, former Sen. Richard Bryan, told the City Council that federal officials want the bypass to include several bridges so that the highway won't interfere with the migration of the bighorn sheep or create runoff problems.

Those bridges would add more than $27 million to the cost of the bypass, which Tobler said is expected to cost about $350 million.

The Transportation Department is fighting the more expensive recommendation, and so the two government agencies are headed into arbitration, or a similar process, to reach a solution, Tobler said.

The disagreement stops the planning for the bypass, but Tobler and Ferraro said it is difficult to say what the impact on the overall project will be because it hasn't been funded yet.

City officials have expressed concern that without the bypass the city will see a dramatic increase in truck traffic through town after a new bridge being built just south of Hoover Dam is completed in 2008.

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