EPA seeks funds to relocate Las Vegas labs, stalled after M Resort controversy

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to revive a Las Vegas construction project that got waylaid in the aftermath of the General Services Administration’s infamous 2010 regional conference at the M Resort in Henderson, officials said Tuesday.

The EPA is asking Congress again for funds to relocate a laboratory and other research units from campus buildings it has been leasing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for the past 48 years, according to White House budget documents.

The EPA and federal property managers at the GSA have been in talks with UNLV to become anchor tenants at a research park the university is developing at Sunset Road and Durango Boulevard in the southwest part of the valley, said Gerry Bomotti, UNLV senior vice president for finance and business. It’s called the UNLV Harry Reid Research and Technology Park, according to the UNLV Research Foundation website.

But the project became stalled at the design stage following disclosure in 2012 of the agency’s $823,000 western region conference that featured clowns, a mind-reader, comedy skits, expensive parties, and bureaucrats joking about spending taxpayer dollars. The conference sparked outrage in Congress as a prime example of wasteful spending and cost several top GSA administrators their jobs.

Reading news reports at the time, Bomotti recognized some of the conference-goers as the same GSA officials working with the EPA and UNLV.

“At the time we thought things were looking good and moving ahead but after that situation I understand they pretty much froze all things coming out of the San Francisco office,” Bomotti said. “For a while that situation not only had repercussions for GSA but it had repercussions for this particular project because those were the people we had talked with.

“A few years ago we thought it was a done deal, or very close to it but then things happened, as they say,” Bomotti said. The EPA requested $12 million from Congress last year to design new facilities in Las Vegas, but it was not approved, he said.

The Obama administration’s fiscal 2015 budget released Tuesday renews the request to move forward on the Las Vegas move. It calls for an unspecified sum to design a new facility that would consolidate EPA units including a laboratory.

The agency was unable to provide further details Tuesday evening. The budget document said the new building will be designed energy-efficient to save on operating costs. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., also has been involved in the discussions.

The EPA environmental sciences program has been a UNLV tenant since 1966, when the school was less than 10 years old. It has leased five buildings on eight acres of what used to be the edge of campus but today is right in its heart. The agency had paid for renovations over the years, and Bomotti said the buildings are in good shape.

The latest long-term leases expire end of September 2015.

“We have told the EPA we don’t see them as long-term there so we do hope they will find a location like the research park where we can continue our collaboration with them and we can meet our master plan goals of turning that space into other campus facilities,” Bomotti said.

Graduate students take part in EPA projects and some agency researchers have become adjunct faculty at the school, he said.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at 202-783-1760 or STetreault@stephensmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.