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Several honored for land swap that protected gateway to Red Rock Canyon

In the late 1980s, the Nature Conservancy helped broker a deal that preserved more than 5,300 acres at the gateway to Red Rock Canyon after talks stalled between the Bureau of Land Management and the developer of a new community called Summerlin.

“Where the visitor center is there literally would have been a subdivision of houses,” said Joel Laub, current board chairman for the environmental group in Nevada.

The Nature Conservancy, the BLM, Summerlin developers the Howard Hughes Corp., and others were honored Wednesday for their work almost 30 years ago with the dedication of a plaque at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

It was hard not to draw parallels to the present.

Many in the conservation community believe Red Rock is again under threat from encroaching development, this time from atop Blue Diamond Hill on the southeastern edge of the canyon.

In December, the Clark County Commission is expected to vote on a revised concept plan for a 5,025-home development on the site of what is now a gypsum mine overlooking the national conservation area.

Last month, the county Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend against the concept plan put forth by mining company and land owner Gypsum Resources and its administrative trustee, developer Jim Rhodes.

A similar concept plan was approved by the County Commission in 2011, but the approval expired while the company and the BLM discussed a potential land swap. Those talks eventually fell through.

Local Nature Conservancy leaders acknowledged the similarities between what is happening now and what unfolded in the days before Summerlin, but they have no immediate plans to intervene.

Former BLM official Juan Palma is the nonprofit conservancy’s new director in Nevada. He said the group hasn’t engaged on the Blue Diamond Hill issue, though he did have an informational meeting about it with County Commissioner Susan Brager on Tuesday.

It’s unclear what Brager hoped to get from the meeting. A message left for her was not returned Wednesday.

Under the deal struck in 1988, the Howard Hughes Corp. agreed to sell the government 439 acres closest to the visitor center site and trade another 4,863 acres surrounding it to the east for 3,767 acres of BLM land at the western edge of the Las Vegas Valley.

“The goal of the exchange was to make sure you didn’t see development from all these scenic vistas you have here,” said Tom Warden, who joined the Hughes Corp. after the land swap and now serves as senior vice president of community and government relations.

Wednesday’s plaque dedication at the Red Rock Canyon visitor center drew about 40 people, including a few who were directly involved in the deal.

Dave Livermore, now Utah director for the Nature Conservancy, called the conservation agreement he helped negotiate a true collaboration and a bipartisan effort for which the BLM, Nevada’s congressional delegation and the Hughes Corp. all deserve recognition.

“There are a lot of lessons here,” Livermore said.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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