On the final Mesquite City Council meeting before the Fourth of July holiday, the council voted 4-1 to approve a controversial resolution endorsing a reduction in the size of Gold Butte National Monument. Despite objections from Mesquite Mayor Allan Litman, his colleagues voted on the resolution which had very little public vetting before yesterday’s meeting.

What’s the resolution about?

Mesquite City Council Member Dave Ballweg claimed, “[n]othing in this resolution says we don’t want to protect Gold Butte.” In reality, Resolution 927 endorses the Trump Administration’s review over Gold Butte and Basin and Range National Monuments, calls on the federal government to reduce the size of Gold Butte National Monument, and challenges Presidential authority under the Antiquities Act to protect public lands like Gold Butte.
Ballweg and supporters of Resolution 927 claimed this resolution was about protecting Mesquite’s water rights. Later in the meeting, public lands activist, Nick Marquart rebutted Ballweg’s assertion and held the letter Governor Brian Sandoval (R) released after President Barack Obama declared Gold Butte National Monument in December. Sandoval’s letter details how state and local officials worked with the Obama Administration on a compromise that guarantees water access to the Virgin Valley Water District.

{Editor’s Note: Nick Marquart is married to the Executive Director of the Institute for a Progressive Nevada, our parent organization.}
Watch the Mesquite City Council and local residents debate the Gold Butte resolution.

Live from Mesquite as the City Council Considers Anti-Gold Butte Resolution

Posted by Nevada Forward on Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Though Mayor Allan Litman criticized how Gold Butte became a National Monument, he had even harsher criticism for his fellow council members slipping this and a resolution imposing a citywide moratorium on recreational marijuana sales onto yesterday’s agenda. “The two resolutions being considered tonight were not run by me. […] I’m not pleased with this procedure.”

Photo by Andrew Davey

Litman questioned the utility of the entire resolution. “In the history of the Antiquities Act, no monument has been overturned. […] This resolution is just the opinion of the council, nothing more.” Litman then asked why Ballweg would introduce this resolution with little time for residents to review and comment on.
After the vote, Friends of Gold Butte Executive Director Jaina Moan agreed with Mayor Litman on the curious circumstance behind the resolution.

Watch Friends of Gold Butte’s Jaina Moan respond to the Mesquite City Council vote.

Friends of Gold Butte's Jaina Moan on tonight's Mesquite City Council vote

Posted by Nevada Forward on Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Moan also referred to Sandoval’s letter in detailing how the Obama Administration worked with local governments, including the Virgin Valley Water District, on a final compromise that meant less land included in the monument than Friends of Gold Butte  and other environmental groups originally wanted. “We feel their water rights are best protected under this proclamation because they are specified and spelled out.”
Last night, Gold Butte opponents claimed the monument threatens local water supply. Even as the Virgin Valley Water District promotes this line of argument, it’s leasing water rights to the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) to help the Las Vegas regional water agency meet the goals of its water resource plan. Virgin Valley Water District also currently has no penalties for water waste, unlike SNWA. Even as the water district claims Mesquite’s water supply is threatened, it’s not behaving as if there’s any actual water emergency.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Despite Council Members Rich Green and Brian Wursten stating their fear that Dave Ballweg’s resolution is too broad, they nonetheless joined Ballweg and George Rapson to approve the resolution. Only Geno Withelder opposed the resolution, with Mayor Allan Litman abstaining.
Despite Resolution 927, this is likely far from the end of this story. Just before the vote, Mayor Litman announced that U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will stop in Mesquite when he returns to Nevada in July as part of the Trump Administration’s National Monuments “review.”
Is this resolution meant to influence Secretary Zinke’s thinking in advance? Will Zinke listen to Nevada Native American communities who want to keep Gold Butte completely intact? Will Zinke and the City of Mesquite be more open to the press and the public than they were in their respective actions this week?
We’ll keep an eye out here, as Zinke will likely return to Nevada late next month.