Paiutes lose fight over landfill at power plant

Darren Daboda, chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, expressed his frustration Thursday after the Southern Nevada Health District board approved a permit allowing NV Energy to expand a landfill for toxic coal-ash waste at a power plant near the reservation.

"It's always David and Goliath," Daboda said about the town of 312 Paiutes, 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. "We always feel like we're low on the totem pole."

The Paiutes and environmentalists packed a public hearing in the health district's meeting room on Shadow Lane. They opposed the landfill expansion, calling plans "woefully inadequate to protect human health and the environment."

NV Energy officials argued for the permit, saying the expansion would protect the Muddy River by moving the wastes farther away and would allow continued operation of the coal-fired Reid Gardner Generating Station, which provides electricity for 335,000 Nevada homes.

The existing landfill only has enough capacity left for 2 ½ years of plant operations. Under the company's expansion, the landfill would have enough space to store more than 10 million cubic yards of coal-combustion wastes from more than 30 years of operation.

The health district board voted 8-4 to approve a permit to allow NV Energy to expand the landfill.

County Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Lawrence Weekly, Anita Wood of North Las Vegas and Donna Fairchild of Mesquite opposed the plan. Lois Tarkanian of Las Vegas was absent.

"I don't think they made a case for a 30-year extension," Giunchigliani said. "I don't believe that the health and environmental issues have been answered.

"I think the general public, including the tribe, have been subjected to environmental issues and I think part of our job as the Board of Health is to make sure that we protect all people regardless of how small they may be."

Dan Galpern, an attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center who spoke on behalf of the Sierra Club, argued that NV Energy's permit application was incomplete and the plans wouldn't protect the environment. He was particularly upset that the company made a last-minute attempt to modify the application in what he called a substantial way.

"These are secret documents on which you are expected to make a decision and the public is expected to keep quiet," he said.

Board Chairwoman Linda Strickland, of Boulder City, took exception to Galpern's implication that the health district was colluding with NV Energy.

After four hours of discussion and public comments, Las Vegas Councilman Stravos Anthony made the motion to approve the landfill expansion. It included a condition that another hearing be held in six months to ensure the permit coincides with recommendations that are expected from the Environmental Protection Agency, which will specify more strict contaminant levels, liner requirements and dates for compliance at coal-ash landfills nationwide.

"I've heard from the public. I've met with the Sierra Club," Anthony said. "This isn't about the landfill, this is about the coal-fired plant. ... and in 180 days we're going to be back here. We're going to have more public comment. They'll bring up 100 other things."

After the meeting, local Sierra Club spokeswoman Jane Feldman said approval of the landfill expansion "was not the result we wanted."

"But in many ways I'm gratified. This plant has been contaminating the environment and now we have a dialogue," Feldman said. "That means they're not going to do business as usual and we're going to hold them to it."

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@review or 702-383-0308.