For well over a decade, Clark County, mega-developer Jim Rhodes, and Save Red Rock have fought over Blue Diamond Hill near Red Rock Canyon. The Nevada Legislature is wading back into that fight with AB 277. The Nevada Supreme Court overturned the Legislature’s last attempt to limit development near Red Rock. How will this time be different?
For one, Black Rock’s also involved.

Black Rock Desert near Reno may be most famous for hosting Burning Man, but it’s also a National Conservation Area (NCA) that’s open for exploration year-round. While there’s no immediate threat, some environmentalists are concerned. Lithium has recently been discovered in the area, launching speculation on future mining prospects in the region.

AB 277 seeks to address these concerns by specifying no new development can extend within five miles of a NCA.

Friends of Black Rock testified in favor of AB 277, hoping it will provide clarity and assurance that potential lithium mining projects don’t encroach upon Black Rock. However, the most explosive parts of today’s hearing at the Assembly Government Affairs Committee came during discussion on another Nevada landmark.
“This protects our jewel of Red Rock Canyon, and other NCA’s. […] This is an important step to protect our natural wonders.” Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani (D) couldn’t attend the hearing herself, but local activist Christopher Preciado made sure the committee heard what she had to say about Clark County’s and Jim Rhodes’ ongoing dispute with Save Red Rock over Blue Diamond Hill. She stands by her vote against reopening the 2011 concept plan that could allow for suburban development at the foot of Red Rock Canyon outside Las Vegas.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Giunchigliani and Lawrence Weekly (D) cast the two dissenting votes on the Clark County Commission against reopening the 2011 concept plan. No one else from Clark County testified during the hearing, but Ron Krater did. He’s a lawyer for Gypsum Resources, the Jim Rhodes controlled company that seeks higher density zoning for Blue Diamond Hill. Krater threatened legal action if AB 277 becomes law, as it’s “strikingly similar” to a 2003 statute that the Nevada Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional in 2013.
Kevin Powers, legal counsel from the nonpartisan Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB), begged to differ.

“It’s a general law. It will not fall under the restriction of the Nevada Supreme Court in the Gypsum [2013] case.” – LCB’s Kevin Powers

Powers repeatedly assured legislators that LCB’s analysis finds that AB 277 is broad enough to ensure the Nevada Supreme Court won’t find it in violation of state law that prohibits the state from issuing county specific regulations. Following the hearing, AB 277 sponsor Steve Yeager (D-Enterprise) sounded unfazed by Krater’s threat. “No matter what we pass, it will be challenged in court. We’re confident [AB 277] will stand up in court.”
During testimony, dozens from various Southern Nevada communities urged the Legislature to pass AB 277 to ensure Red Rock and other sensitive public lands are safe from suburban/exurban sprawl. Opposition was mostly limited to development oriented business interests. One of the most poignant moments came during Vickie Simmons’ testimony as she spoke for her tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes. “Cultural disruptions during the past two centuries have threatened our way of life. […] I urge you to protect Native American culture, and our plants and animals, by passing AB 277.”

“We do believe the land is alive, and that we should care for it. We should consider future generations to come.” – Vickie Simmons

Later in the hearing, Former State Senator and current environmental activist Justin Jones (D-Enterprise) urged his colleagues sitting in the Legislature now to show courage. “Show the courage. Do not be afraid of threats from developers. Do the right thing for Nevada.”
Assembly Member Steve Yeager seemed to take that into account, as he appreciated the outpouring of support for his bill. “All of that support you saw was organic, very heartfelt, very touching.” He’s hopeful he can “work out” an amendment that addresses the concerns of  environmentalists who want to protect sensitive public lands and various local governments eyeing future economic development projects. The Nevada Legislature has two more weeks to pass bills out of their original committees. Yeager acknowledged that as he promised to move swiftly to ensure AB 277’s on track to become law.