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September 16, 2014

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Titus, Heller voice opposition to proposed mines near Anthem

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

This photograph from December 2008 shows the entrance to the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. Nearby, two mining companies are seeking approval from the Bureau of Land Management to start a 640-acre rock-excavation operation, agitating Henderson residents concerned about dust and noise.

Click to enlarge photo
Click to enlarge photo

This photograph from December 2008 shows a view of the Las Vegas Strip from the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. Nearby, two mining companies are seeking approval from the Bureau of Land Management to start a 640-acre rock-excavation operation, agitating Henderson residents concerned about dust and noise.

Residents in the southernmost area of the valley who have been fighting a proposed mining operation near the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area received help today from two members of Nevada’s congressional delegation.

Reps. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) issued a joint letter to Nevada's Bureau of Land Management office this morning, opposing the proposal and urging staff charged with reviewing it to consider issues of air quality, traffic and water conservation in making their decision.

"Recognizing the importance of the mining industry in Nevada, we are keenly aware of the requirements for a responsible mining operation and are concerned that this particular location is not suited to a new aggregate mine," the pair wrote.

A consultant for Service Rock, one of the two companies hoping to mine the site, said it doesn't make sense to question the suitability of the site as a mine, because relative land-use plans at the BLM, Clark County and Henderson all show it as such.

"It's interesting, frankly, that (Titus and Heller) would make that statement, considering the fact that this particular site has been identified as a sand and gravel mine since at least 1998," public land consultant Mike Ford said.

The 640-acre site for the proposed aggregate mining operation is located on federal land within Clark County, east of Interstate 15 approximately one mile south of Sloan Road. Because it lies on federal land, the BLM is in charge of its use, while neighboring jurisdictions Clark County and Henderson can do little more than regulate the air quality impact of any project that the BLM approves.

The BLM has been working on the environmental impact statement required by law since December 2007; a draft version of the document for public review is expected in October or November.

Service Rock and the other interested company, Cemex, have proposed to set up separate aggregate mining pits on the site that would slowly merge over time and could be operated around the clock, seven days a week for as long 30 years.

Aggregate is a base material used in construction and the manufacture of concrete and asphalt, though the two companies have dropped their requests for on-site asphalt plants. Cemex and Service Rock representatives say the Sloan site has the highest aggregate quality of any untapped deposit in the valley.

Since the first public meeting about the proposal in 2007, residents in Sun City Anthem, Seven Hills and other neighboring communities have expressed determined opposition. Last week, they hosted Titus, Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak and representatives from Heller's office for a public meeting to voice their concerns.

Dust and air quality have been the biggest issue — residents of the age-restricted Sun City Anthem community have been particularly worried about the health impact of additional airborne particles on their population.

Declining property values, the use of dynamite, water usage and heavy truck traffic have also been listed as major concerns. In their letter, Titus and Heller mentioned many of them.

"Adding to the problems associated with increased particulate in the air, an aggregate operation would also add an additional burden to community infrastructure, resources, and possibly public safety," they wrote.

Ford said many of the concerns ignore the history of the site and the track record of aggregate mining operations in the valley, some of which are located much closer to homes than the Sloan site would be.

He said the BLM's environmental impact statement will address all the concerns, and that judgment of the proposal's merits should be reserved until the impacts and the plan to mitigate them have been reviewed.

"At the end of the day, this is a BLM action," Ford said. "We have to let the process play out."

Despite the opposition, BLM officials have said they are bound by law to respond to any legitimate mining proposal and must go through the environmental impact statement process before any decision can be made.

BLM Assistant Field Manager Mark Chatterton of the Las Vegas Field Office said the drafting of an environmental impact statement is a public process, and that the letter from Titus and Heller will be weighed alongside all of the other comments his office has received.

"Certainly, the Congresswoman and the Congressman giving their points of view will be important in this process, but it won't, at this point, cause us to change direction," Chatterton said.

Ford said any decision should also take into account the fact that Service Rock and other companies voluntarily surrendered mining claims in the 1990s to allow for the development of Sun City Anthem and Seven Hills. He stressed that there was "no quid-pro-quo" in the surrender; the only assurance the companies received was that any proposal for the Sloan site would be properly reviewed and, if approved, that they would be allowed to submit a competitive bid for the site.

"It was done so that development in the south valley could continue," Ford said. "… There wouldn't be an Anthem as we know it today had these mining interests not voluntarily agreed to move."

At the time, Ford said, the idea was to get away from population centers.

Development, however, has come in faster than anyone anticipated at the time. Though the pit was once several miles from any residence, it is now just 3.5 miles from Anthem, 3.5 miles from Southern Highlands and one mile from the approved boundary of Inspirada, according to the BLM.

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