Trucks hauling bathtub-size chunks of concrete and asphalt arrived at the dirt road near Sagebrush Ranch under the cover of darkness.
There, one mile west of the intersection of Ann Road and the Las Vegas Beltway, they dumped the rebar-laced rubble that had come from a demolished taxiway at McCarran International Airport.
During the debris removal project that was supposed to last three weeks in the spring of 2004, tractor-trailer rigs had delivered enough rubble to fill part of a pit the size of a cul-de-sac where the Bureau of Land Management had once let bidders from the public extract sand and gravel.
The scenario spells out an illegal desert dumping operation that BLM staff members reported to supervisors in 2004. They blamed Sagebrush Ranch’s horseback riding permit holder, Jacque Fitzgerald, who they said told a construction waste hauler it was OK to put the rubble in the pit on public land.
Four years have passed and no one has been held accountable for improperly disposing of the estimated 80,000 cubic yards of concrete and asphalt.
In that time, BLM officials lost track of a plan to remove the pile. Only last month, during a helicopter flyover, did they realize the rubble was still there.
Why the plan, if one existed, was never carried out is a mystery.
"That’s a question we’re looking into," BLM spokeswoman Kirsten Cannon said Thursday, standing midway between the rubble pile and a flat, brownish-black stained gravel area where manure from the more than 50 horses that Fitzgerald kept in a corral had been smoothed over some time ago.
The manure heap had caught fire more than once from spontaneous combustion, Cannon said.
The BLM estimates that the task to relocate the concrete-and-asphalt rubble to the regional landfill at Apex, north of Las Vegas, could cost between $350,000 and more than $700,000 in disposal fees alone depending on how many cubic yards are there. The gate fee for concrete and solid, demolition waste is $8.85 per cubic yard.
That’s roughly what it would have cost the airport project’s subcontractor, named as TAB Construction in BLM documents, to dispose of the waste at the regional landfill.
Although some BLM officials familiar with the issue have since left the Las Vegas Field Office, memos obtained by the Review-Journal provide some details about what happened.
"I noticed portable work lights on site," reads a May 6, 2004, memo from Dave Barajas, recreation staff supervisor, to John Jamrog, assistant field manager for recreation and renewal resources.
"Mr. (Mike) Brooks (of TAB Construction) said the trucks were running at night from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. making deliveries of airport debris … I immediately issued a verbal cease and desist order to Mr. Brooks and he communicated same to his management. All fill activity stopped."
Other documents filed at the BLM’s Las Vegas Field Office show the dumping operation was tied to an area used by Fitzgerald’s horse riding outfit, Sagebrush Ranch Adventures.
At the time, Fitzgerald held a special recreation permit that was revoked shortly after the rubble pile was noticed by BLM employees.
"Ms. Fitzgerald accepted and voiced her responsibility for this incident and offered to do what ever was necessary," reads the May 7, 2004, permit cancellation memo from Barajas to Jamrog.
In an e-mail last week, Cannon wrote that Fitzgerald "asked TAB Construction to fill the community pit (sand and gravel) on BLM managed public land … with broken concrete and asphalt."
Reached last week, Fitzgerald denied she had asked TAB to fill the pit with debris. "I have absolutely nothing to do with TAB Construction," she said.
What happened, Fitzgerald said, is that a man she had hired to build an arena at the site told a friend of his at TAB that it would be permissible to dump the airport debris there. She said she was in California buying horses at the time and had no knowledge of the dumping operation.
"I think they worked out something between them so they could get some money out of it," Fitzgerald said about the alleged arrangement between TAB and the man she hired, whose name she couldn’t remember.
TAB Construction is not listed among businesses posted on the Nevada State Contractors Board Web site.
But a company with a similar name, TAB Contractors Inc., is listed as a licensed contractor. The company’s division manager in North Las Vegas, Derek Stott, said Monday he has no comment on the issue "because I don’t know anything about it."
Stott, who has worked for TAB Contractors Inc. for 12 years, said the name of the TAB employee mentioned in the BLM memo, Mike Brooks, "doesn’t ring a bell."
He said people often get TAB Construction mixed up with TAB Contractors.
Chris Jones, a spokesman for McCarran International Airport, confirmed that a company named TAB was a subcontractor for MMC Inc., the company that was contracted in 2002 to replace taxiways and aprons with new concrete and complete some underground storm drain work.
Some records weren’t immediately available last week on TAB’s role in the project, but Jones said, "We know that the contract called for the material to be disposed of legally."
On Monday, Jones said McCarran officials weren’t aware of the BLM’s memos or the 2004 dumping incident until contacted last week by the Review-Journal.
"We’ve not been asked to clean it up or take further action," Jones said.
Meanwhile, Cannon said the BLM is considering "administrative remedies" for the illegally dumped rubble rather than take the responsible party or parties to court in a criminal case.
"Either the person who is responsible cleans it up at their cost or we clean it up and bill them," she said Friday.
Another option is to conduct an environmental review for reopening the community pit in connection with a nearby operating pit, then parties can bid on extracting the rubble for accessing sand and gravel.
She noted that illegal dumping "is a major challenge faced by public land managers."
She pointed to an award for public lands stewardship that the BLM and other agencies received last week.
Members of a multi-agency cleanup team traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept a Take Pride in America national award on Friday.
The team from the BLM, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has held 57 volunteer cleanup projects since 2006 that removed 2,765 cubic yards of waste. Another 908 cubic yards of waste was removed by alternative work forces.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.