WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid on Monday came out against a proposed gravel quarry that is being battled by residents in the southern end of the Las Vegas Valley.
"I have heard from thousands of people about the Sloan Hills mine proposal, and I share those concerns," said Reid, D-Nev.
With the Bureau of Land Management working on a draft environmental study of the plan, "I have expressed my interest to them in seeing the possible denial of the permit being a major part of that evaluation," the Senate majority leader said.
Reid's comments came in a statement issued shortly after two other members of Nevada's congressional delegation similarly told the BLM of concerns with the mining plan.
Reps. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., signed a letter urging the BLM to take into account local worries about water, traffic, noise and air quality as it moves forward with environmental studies of the Sloan Hills Mineral Project.
"We feel compelled to convey our deep concerns over the merits of this project," the lawmakers said in a joint letter to the BLM's acting state director.
"Recognizing the importance of the mining industry in Nevada, we are keenly aware of the requirements for a responsible mining operation and are concerned that this particular location is not suited to a new aggregate mine," they wrote.
With the letter, the lawmakers came out in support of residents of Sun City Anthem and other communities who have organized against a proposed gravel removal operation on 640 acres off Las Vegas Boulevard South near the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area.
It was hardly the first time residents in that part of Clark County have made their views known. In 2005 Reid negotiated their concerns before introducing a bill designating 229 acres at Sloan for a heliport to divert helicopter tours away from busy McCarran International Airport.
"The people of Anthem and surrounding neighborhoods have a long history of working to protect their corner of the valley," Reid said.
Several dozen residents blasted the quarry plan at a meeting April 20 that was attended by Henderson city officials, Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, Titus and by an aide to Heller. About 5,500 people have signed petitions opposing the quarry.
Two companies -- Mexico-based Cemex, and Service Rock Products, of California -- want to lease the BLM property that is said to contain high quality construction aggregates used to make concrete. They envision an open pit mining operation that will carry off millions of tons of sand and rock over a 20-year lifespan.
But a site that was once miles from anywhere is now about 31/2 miles from Anthem and slightly longer distances from other Henderson neighborhoods where residents are expressing fear about dust, possible truck traffic and their property values.
Mike Ford, a Service Rock consultant in Las Vegas, said local opposition is being driven by emotions and not by facts or an understanding of the process that will be used by the BLM and the county to evaluate whether to allow the mine to operate.
Beyond BLM's involvement, the mining operation would be subject to county air quality permits and restrictions on water use, Ford said. Other quarries operate much closer to homes in other parts of the valley, he said.
The Sloan site had been designated as suitable for sand and gravel development in BLM management plans dating to 1998, and also in Clark County and Henderson land use plans, Ford said. It also was recognized as such in the Clark County federal land act Congress passed in 2002.
The issue also has a backstory. Service Rock and other companies including the predecessor of Cemex gave up mining claims in the area during the 1990s, stepping aside so Henderson could expand.
Without that action, "there wouldn't be a Sun City Anthem today," Ford said. "People who held those mining claims agreed to withdraw those claims so residential development could go forward in return for BLM to eventually study making other material available in what is now Sloan."
"We want to let the process work," Ford said.
The BLM is expected to have a draft report ready this fall, which will be made available for public comment before a final decision is rendered.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760.