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September 17, 2014

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Convenient gas? Not at any price

Sandy Valley residents say safe water worth more than a local pump

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Leila Navidi

Sandy Valley residents (from left) Leonard Smith, Robert Ringer and David Amon attend a meeting of residents opposed to a proposed gas station in their town at Trails End Deli and Ice Cream in Sandy Valley on Monday. The residents plan to object at today’s county commission meeting.

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Sandy Valley resident Lana Haddad stands on the land she hopes to sell to a developer who wants to build a gas station there. Some residents worry a leak could taint their aquifer.

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Robert Ringer walks on the site where a gas station could be built in Sandy Valley on Monday. Ringer is one of many residents who are opposed to plans for a gas station.

Beyond the Sun

Sandy Valley has one bar, three restaurants and five churches for its 2,000 people.

What it doesn’t have is a gas station.

The nearest pumps are almost 20 miles away in Jean, and some valley residents would like to keep it that way.

They plan to make the 50-mile trek to the Clark County Government Center today to urge county commissioners to reject a developer’s effort to build a gas station — and install underground tanks that would hold thousands of gallons of gasoline — along the town’s lonely main road.

The Sandy Valley folks say any leak from the underground storage tanks would contaminate their only source of drinking water. They say their aquifer is already threatened by pumping on its California side and by Vidler Water Co., which for years has sought to export water from the basin.

“We’re not against filling stations. We’re against anything that would contaminate our aquifer,” said Leonard Smith, one of about a dozen residents who plan to speak in opposition to the proposal.

Smith said they would have to abandon their lives and homes in Sandy Valley if their water supply ever went bad. Protecting that aquifer is their way of protecting a rural lifestyle.

Sandy Valley is less than an hour’s drive from Las Vegas, but it is a world away — down Interstate 15 toward the California border, then west from Jean, through the mountains, past Joshua trees and the cat box filler factory.

Even though the closest source of gasoline is almost 20 miles away, the citizens of Sandy Valley say the proposed alternative isn’t likely to be the success its developer hopes.

Opponents of the project said they buy their gas in Las Vegas because it’s a lot cheaper there than in Jean. On Monday, Vegas’ pump prices hit $3.29 a gallon, while in Jean they were $3.59. Locals say they might buy a gallon or two in Jean to make the 30-mile trip to Vegas, but certainly wouldn’t fill the tank.

They figure the additional cost of transporting the gasoline to a Sandy Valley station — along narrow, rocky roads — is bound to make gas prices in Sandy Valley even higher.

“There’s really no need for the station,” said Ken Derschan.

The same goes for the carwash and convenience store that are to be part of the project, Derschan’s neighbors said.

Sandy Valley already has a general store “that carries everything ... and if they don’t have what you want, they’ll have it for you within two days,” John Bacher said.

And there’s not much sense in washing your car or, more likely, your truck in a town this, well, sandy.

Jane Feldman, conservation co-chairwoman of the Sierra Club, said that although Sandy Valley residents may be opposing something that would make their lives easier, “the inconvenience is worth it to them to make sure the water supplies weren’t impacted. Maybe if we all lived off wells and drank water from our back yards we would stop to think a little more carefully.”

“This is some pretty deep, insightful thinking that’s going on,” Feldman said.

All gas stations eventually cause some kind of contamination, she said.

Opponents say the Sandy Valley aquifer is especially fragile because the water table is never more than about 100 feet below the surface, no matter what part of the valley you’re in, and is tapped for private and community wells throughout the area.

Nevada’s Environmental Protection Division and the Southern Nevada Health District say the Sandy Valley folks needn’t be so worried; the tanks would be relatively safe.

Jim Najima, chief of the division’s corrective actions bureau, said leaks from underground storage tanks can happen but are not common, and instances of leaks affecting drinking water are even rarer. Since the state implemented a program to monitor underground storage tanks in 1989, there has never been a leaky tank that tainted a drinking water supply, he said.

Lana Haddad, who owns the proposed gas station site, said the underground tanks would be double-lined and feature an electronic monitoring system to detect leaks. Haddad already has approval for the plan from the Sandy Valley town council. She said Monday she plans to sell the property to Alex Popovic, a Las Vegas developer who plans to build the project.

“He’s gone above and beyond,” Haddad said of Popovic’s efforts to satisfy locals that their drinking water would be safe from contamination by the tanks.

Craig Erskine, an environmental health supervisor with the Southern Nevada Health District, which oversees underground tank installation in Clark County, said if an underground storage tank and its pipes are single-walled, they must be at least 1,000 feet from a well. But if the tank and its pipes are double-walled — and most are these days — there are no limits on how close an underground tank can be to a drinking water source, he said.

Jason Allswang, an assistant Clark County planning manager, said there is a well on the proposed gas station property, 60 feet from the proposed station canopy. Residents said the aquifer is only 50 feet below the proposed station site.

If Clark County commissioners approve the project at their zoning meeting today, the developer will still have to get an underground storage tank installation permit from the Health District, which won’t award the permit unless the tank is double-walled, Erskine said.

He also said the Health District inspects all underground storage tanks once a year. Owners of such tanks are required to monitor them for leaks. If the monitoring suggests the possibility of a leak, the owner is required to notify the Health District. The Nevada Environmental Protection Division oversees any mitigation that is required.

But residents aren’t satisfied.

They met at the town’s ice cream parlor Monday to rehearse the statements they plan to make at today’s commission meeting. They said they’re worried that the developer doesn’t live in Sandy Valley, doesn’t understand their lifestyle and won’t protect their water.

“Even aboveground tanks can spill,” Carol Benner said. “The county can never guarantee there won’t be a spill.”

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