Sloan Hills project has cloudy future

WASHINGTON -- Congress adjourned Wednesday without acting on a bill to outlaw gravel mining at Sloan Hills, leaving residents anxious about the possibility of a pit operation near Henderson neighborhoods.

As the Senate neared a close this week, Republicans blocked action on legislation covering about 100 public lands and wilderness initiatives, including the Southern Nevada bill and several others involving the state.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., tried to negotiate a scaled-down bill, aides said Wednesday. But in the meantime, the House of Representatives adjourned for the year, and the Senate followed suit a few hours later.

Other Nevada public land efforts that were included in the broad legislation were:

■ A transfer of 2,085 acres of federal land in North Las Vegas to the Nevada university system.

■ A $415 million authorization for further environmental reclamation at Lake Tahoe.

■ A 50-year extension of contracts for electricity from Hoover Dam.

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said Reid told him that if the Sloan Hills legislation is not passed, he would continue to pursue it next year. The bill, which declares the site off limits to mining, would need to be reintroduced and have new hearings.

"He told me he was still making it a priority," Sisolak said. "Senator Ensign made the same commitment to me."

In the meantime, Sisolak said there is still heightened concern about a gravel quarry proposed for 640 acres of federal land in the south valley.

The site is about three miles from the Sun City Anthem development and other Henderson neighborhoods where residents have rallied against what they fear will be dirt and dust pollution, noise and heavy truck traffic.

"In the past month I've had 50 e-mails and calls from residents in the area who are concerned. Everybody gets all riled up and concerned, and rightfully so," Sisolak said. "People want some definitive, conclusive actions. Until this is passed and signed, people will be apprehensive."

Two companies, Mexico-based Cemex and Service Rock Products of California, have sought to lease the Bureau of Land Management property, which contains construction aggregates used to make concrete.

According to the BLM, there are no plans to turn dirt anytime soon. The agency is conducting a draft environmental impact study on the proposal to mine in the area.

BLM spokeswoman Kirsten Cannon said the draft study could be finished early next year. That would be followed by a 120-day public comment period, the completion of a final environmental study, the issuance of a formal record of decision, and a 30-day protest period.

"I would think a rough guesstimate would be another year," Cannon said.

In Washington, Republicans complained that Democrats were overreaching in trying to pass a broad public lands and wilderness bill in the final days of the session.

While a number of individual pieces enjoyed support, GOP senators said several controversial proposals were included in the mix.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.