Nevada LegislaturePublic LandSocial Justice

AB 277 Public Lands Bill Gets Heard in Nevada Senate

Seeing encroaching development as a threat to the integrity of Nevada’s National Conservation Areas (NCA’s), Assembly Member Steve Yeager introduced AB 277. After several weeks of negotiations, the Assembly passed AB 277 30-12 earlier this month. Today/Yesterday, AB 277 had its big day in the other house of the Nevada Legislature.

AB 277 was heavily amended in committee before it hit the Assembly floor. The bill was amended to require environmental impact statements and otherwise restrict most developments within 0.5 mile of a NCA. Nevada currently has three NCA’s: Red Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon near Las Vegas, and Black Rock Desert near Reno.

Just like the bill’s Assembly hearing, nonpartisan Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB) legal counsel Kevin Powers explained to the Senate Government Affairs Committee what’s in the amended AB 277 and how it’s unlike a 2003 bill restricting development near Red Rock Canyon that was overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court in 2013.

“This bill does not deprive the owner the use of his property. […] This is not a regulatory taking that’s unconstitutional.” – Kevin Powers, LCB

Powers explained in further detail how AB 277 does not amount to a regulatory taking that would run afoul of the Nevada or U.S. Constitution. Instead, Powers framed the bill as a legal tool the state can use to properly regulate development near environmentally sensitive public lands.

The Nevada Conservation League’s Vinny Spotleson agreed. During testimony, he noted Congress approving Red Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon NCA’s to protect them from expanding suburban development.

“It’s important to protect our National Conservation Areas. There’s intense passion to protect these areas […] from dense urban development.” – Vinny Spotleson, Nevada Conservation League

In Southern Nevada, mega-developer Jim Rhodes is pursuing a large-scale suburban style development on Blue Diamond Hill adjacent to Red Rock Canyon. In Northern Nevada, the Burning Man community and local environmentalists fear the lithium boom may tempt mining companies to mine closer to Black Rock Canyon. Activists on both ends of the state hope AB 277 will protect these and other environmentally sensitive public lands from disruptive development.

Battle Born Progress Executive Director, Annette Magnus then brought this issue home. She described how her neighbors and others in the Las Vegas Valley are in “desperate need” of protected public lands for recreation, experiences in nature, and escape from the urban grind. She also reminded Senators of Nevada voters’ strong support for protecting public lands.

“Nevadans overwhelmingly support our public lands. […] They want to see our public land protected.” – Annette Magnus, Battle Born Progress

The City of Las Vegas’ Brian McAnallen provided the only real opposition during the hearing when he explained the city’s discontent over AB 277’s environmental impact statement process. Henderson City Attorney Josh Reid struck a very different tone in expressing the city’s support for the bill, and for protecting nearby Sloan Canyon. Even Pardee Homes lobbyist (and Former State Senator) Helen Foley praised AB 277 sponsor Steve Yeager (D-Enterprise) for his willingness to amend the bill to ensure development that’s already underway at Inspirada can continue as planned while still protecting Sloan Canyon.

Yeager himself voiced confidence that a final deal on AB 277 is near at the end of the hearing. “It sounds like we’re almost there.” With less than a month left until the Legislature adjourns sine die, AB 277 only has a little more time to get all the way there.

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