Las Vegas Sun

July 29, 2014

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Coyote Springs clears hurdle

The Coyote Springs development 60 miles north of Las Vegas has received another governmental boost, this time from the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agencies last week issued a "corrective patent" that moves the boundary of the land to be developed about a mile to the east, a change that environmentalists and the federal agencies say will help protect critical habitat for the endangered desert tortoise.

Habitat concerns are among the chief worries for critics of the project, which would ultimately put 50,000 homes on the Clark-Lincoln county line.

The Fish and Wildlife Service asked the BLM in 2001 to consider the boundary change for the 42,000-acre project to maintain an overland connection to the Mormon Mesa area, which is critical habitat for the desert tortoise.

"The proposed adjustment will alleviate our immediate concerns relative to maintaining desert tortoise habitat connectively within the Mormon Mesa critical habitat," said Bob Williams, field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife office in Reno.

Jane Feldman, an activist with the local arm of the Sierra Club and an occasional critic of the project, said that if the project is to go forward -- and the developers are already grading land for construction -- then the move makes sense.

In the old configuration, land to be protected for the tortoise lay in the middle of the Coyote Springs development, isolating any population of the reptile.

"This is a better configuration for wildlife," said Feldman, who worked as a volunteer member of a technical committee that examined environmental issues affecting the project.

"It does away with the old 'doughnut hole' by shifting the leased lands to the east."

The Coyote Springs project began in 1988 when federal legislation gave 29,000 acres to Aerojet, a rocket-production company, for building the MX intercontinental ballistic missile. The company also took a 100-year lease on another 14,000 acres.

In 1996, with the MX project effectively dead, the company moved to sell the land to a development company controlled by Harvey Whittemore, a Reno lawyer and lobbyist. Two years later, Coyote Springs Investment began the long process of winning needed federal environmental approvals for the project.

Mike Ford, a consultant working for Coyote Springs Investment, said the request to shift the designated tortoise habitat was one of the earliest requests the developers made to the federal government.

"It was a doughnut hole in the middle of the project," Ford said. "It was not a configuration that lent itself to any reasonable consideration of protecting habitat."

Ford said the change does not alter the total number of acres affected in the project.