Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2014

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ANSWERS: CLARK COUNTY:

Security measures to get $500,000 boost

In light of recent events in the unfriendly skies — the would-be underwear bomber on Christmas Day and more recently the passenger who tried to open the door on a jet flying into Las Vegas — what’s the status of anti-terror activities in Clark County?

The County Commission this week is likely to approve three items on its agenda related to homeland security. With approval, Clark County will enter an agreement with Las Vegas to support ongoing “Citizen Corps” activities and purchase equipment dealing with radiation detection and decontamination. The $506,000 to pay for the measures comes from the federal Urban Area Security Initiative.

Specifically, how will the money be used?

A big chunk, more than $230,000, will be used to buy equipment to detect radiation. One device, called a high sensitivity HPGe Detector, is cooled with liquid nitrogen and used to detect low levels of radiation. Jim O’Brien, Clark County emergency manager, said the portable device could be used at truck weigh stations to scan cargo.

Another grant, about $90,000, will be used to purchase equipment, including a decontamination trailer, an ATV and hazardous materials manuals to support efforts to decontaminate people or areas that have come in contact with hazardous chemical, biological or radiologic materials. Another $230,000 grant will be used to get a “Citizens Corps” off the ground. Most of that money will go for staff, with $86,500 paying for training materials.

Are Las Vegas or Clark County high on the list of targets by terrorists?

Although it’s true that five of the Sept. 11 terrorists, including leader Mohamed Atta, visited Las Vegas, it has been largely quiet before and since. And there is disagreement over how appealing a terrorist target Las Vegas is.

The federal government does not include Las Vegas among its top-tier targets, meaning the area isn’t eligible for as much money as cities such as New York.

O’Brien, however, points to a 2007 Rand Corp. study that ranked Las Vegas the ninth most-likely U.S. terrorist target.

•••

Taking a deep breath the other day, I noticed I didn’t cough. Is that because I quit smoking a few years ago or because Clark County’s air is getting cleaner?

Probably both.

Air quality is always an issue. And a little-attended meeting of the Clark County Pollution Control Hearing Board last week made it clear that it’s always going to difficult for the region to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Has the economic slowdown helped air quality here?

Possibly. Gary Miller, air quality compliance and enforcement manager, said his staff’s enforcement actions in the construction industry, which is about dead now, fell from about 300 actions in 2007 and 2008 each to just over 100 in 2009.

Less construction means less dust.

With the construction slowdown, Miller’s staff is inspecting more stationary sources of pollution, including power plants, storage tanks that emit gases and wastewater-treatment plants.

“A lot of it is inaccurate record keeping, missing information,” Miller said of the violations.

How about ozone? Is Clark County ever going to reach the ozone standards set by the EPA?

William Cates, principal planner in air quality management, said the EPA is proposing more stringent ozone standards that would make compliance tough for the valley. The EPA wants to lower the amount of ozone allowed from 75 parts per billion to 60 to 70.

If that standard were in place today, ozone levels would be over the limit at 12 of the county’s 13 air quality monitors.

Why can’t we get ozone under control?

Believe it or not, it’s not all our fault. Cates said Clark County’s natural environment — pine trees emit volatile organic compounds, for instance, that can led to ozone formation — accounts for ozone levels of about 40 ppb. More damaging, though, is California.

Blaming California for our ills, are you?

In this case it’s justified. Even if no one lived in Las Vegas, ozone wafting in from Southern and Central California would be enough to lift Clark County over the EPA’s new standards, which were proposed this month.

So what’s going to happen?

Clark County and other Western states are going to be submitting comments to the EPA within the next two months. If the standards become law, Cates said deadlines for meeting those will range from 2014 to 2031.

He said the EPA estimated Clark County would not be able to attain new ozone levels before 2020.

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