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Tule Springs protection bill could see Senate vote by 2014

City leaders from the northwest part of the valley paid a lobbying visit to Washington, D.C., last month, making incremental progress on long-sought legislation to protect prehistoric fossils beds north of Tule Springs.

They ran into a tough crowd again this month, returning home to face several dozen constituents packed into the Aliante Library’s meeting room for a Nov. 6 legislative update hosted by longtime bill advocates with the Las Vegas-based Protectors of Tule Springs.

The group-backed legislation — aimed at creating a 22,000-acre national monument to preserve thousands of Ice Age fossils scattered between the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe reservation and the Desert National Wildlife Refuge — is moving ahead nicely, according to Vinny Spotleson, a staffer with Sen. Harry Reid’s office.

Spotleson quickly rattled off the legislative hurdles already cleared by the bill, noting that it could be slated for a congressional markup, or preliminary amendment-writing session, by the end of the year.

He said the bill, which was first introduced last July, still enjoys the full support of Nevada’s congressional delegation and should see a vote on the Senate floor by early 2014.

From there, the legislation would be passed to the House of Representatives, where it could face an equally lengthy slog.

“We have Republican support on the bill; we have Democratic support on the bill,” Spotleson said. “We have business and environmental support. So what’s the problem? The problem is things don’t happen very fast on Capitol Hill — that’s just not the way the process was designed.”

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, who joined Ward 6 Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross on last month’s trip, picked up where Spotleson left off, touching on the bill’s legislative machinations before wading into some of the political horse trading still to emerge from the effort.

Lee said he hopes to see the legislation adopted in more or less the same shape first proposed by Rep. Steven Horsford last summer. That bill, which has languished in a House subcommittee since May, makes room for a Clark County sand dune park, a long-awaited University of Nevada, Las Vegas satellite campus and even manages to accommodate a renewable energy powerline corridor through the expansive fossil monument area.

It also sets aside a few economic development sweeteners for city leaders with a stake in the project, including some 640 acres the city of Las Vegas hopes to turn into an industrial park.

Lee said in a perfect world, he’d be happy to give up some of his city’s 600 acres in exchange for a recently proposed Southern Nevada medical school.

“I’m interested in getting the land across from the (Veterans Affairs Medical Center),” the first-term mayor explained, “because to be honest with you, if I don’t, it’s going to go to some developer to build houses around there.

“I’d give away that 150 acres at the top (of the conservation area) if we could get a medical school here. … But if it messes up the bill’s passage, I’ll pull it.”

That didn’t sit well with longtime Protectors of Tule Springs member Rob Mrowka. Risking the monument, Mrowka said, isn’t worth the economic reward of a new medical school.

“Before you start moving chess pieces, you should go back to your coalition,” he said. “A lot of negotiation and compromise went into building a plan everybody could live with, so you ought to go back to the people who crafted the compromises because I’m not sure we could support what you’re talking about without seeing it.”

Group President Jill DeStefano said, by and large, her membership remains open to just about any means of getting the bill passed.

DeStefano finds herself in a tough position after several years in the legislative trenches. She’s first in line behind anything that might hasten the bill’s progress, but after having witnessed plenty of false starts over the years, last among the group’s members willing to take a flier on something that could jeopardize the still-fragile effort.

As near as she can tell, the national monument remains in steady hands.

“There’s no way anybody can guarantee it will pass, but we’ve got the (Las Vegas Metro) Chamber of Commerce and the whole Nevada delegation on our side,” she said. “I’m 85 to 90 percent sure it’ll go through. I can’t see why anybody would stand in the way.”

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at or 702-477-3839.