Bill would make wash a national monument, pave way for Ice Age Park

Federal lawmakers could have legislation on their desks soon to make the Upper Las Vegas Wash a 23,000-acre national monument and prehistoric deposits protection site .

Speculation is swirling that congressional delegates could be introduced to official language this week.

The bill would establish the Tule Springs Wash , also known as the Upper Las Vegas Wash , as a national monument and reserve about 315 acres to construct the Ice Age Park of Southern Nevada , a proposed tourist destination , research facility and home to the thousands of fossils already discovered at the site.

Professionals have confirmed that the northwest corner of the valley has significant paleontological fossils from the Pleistocene Ice Age. About 10,000 mammoth, camel and other fossils have been excavated from the area for more than 50 years . A portion of the fossil finds are kept at the San Bernardino County Museum in California as per government mandate .

Local educators and supporters of the fossil-rich part of the valley have campaigned for years to keep Nevada fossils at home and have the government acknowledge and protect the property.

The Tule Springs Wash area meets criteria established by the National Park Service for monument distinction.

Rare fossil finds and plant species of a concentrated population, in Southern Nevada’s case, the Las Vegas buckwheat and the Las Vegas bear poppy, are known in the area. It also is already on the National Register of Historic Places.

Although representatives for legislation co-sponsors U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley won’t estimate when the legislation will be considered, proponents said a draft is set to be introduced this week. Local lawmakers and representatives from Nellis Air Force Base and the Las Ve gas Paiute Tribe have verbally expressed support for the plans.

In March, the Bureau of Land Management announced that it was removing 10,670 acres from private development eligibility. Upper Las Vegas Wash proponents viewed the move as a win for the proposed plans.

Protectors of Tule Springs, a nonprofit group on the front lines of the Upper Las Vegas Wash campaign, has rallied residents’ support and collected more than 10,000 signatures to present to legislators.

"Every time people in our coalition talk to the public, the first thing we hear after the presentation is, ‘I had no idea that was out there,’ " said Helen Mortenson , Ice Age Park Foundation president. "We have been waiting three years for this legislation to come through. Politics is a strange game, so we’ve had to wait our turn."

Mortenson said the proposed projects "fits perfectly" with the National Park Service ‘s goal to create urban units, in which tourists gain a destination, professionals net a research hub and educators have field trip opportunities. Restaurants and businesses around the area also would benefit, she said.

The plan has considerable backing and incentive, with conditions.

Scenic Nevada, a local conservation group, balked at alleged language within the Tule Springs Wash legislation that would allow for a 400-foot-wide transmission line. A battle has bubbled over NV Energy utility poles and power lines running through the national monument area.

"While supporters to create a national monument wholeheartedly support legislation to protect the immense natural resources located in this unique 23,000-acre site, we have deep concern and opposition to any language that allows for a transmission line, 400 feet wide " group spokeswoman Lisa Mayo-DeRiso said in a statement.

"We would also take away the ability of citizens, neighbors, rate-payers and other governing bodies to weigh-in on the appropriateness of power-lines in this area. NV Energy has held this legislation up, not recognizing putting massive transmission lines through a National Monument is inconceivable and inappropriate.

"We are confident the delegation wants to do this right."

The power company said the lines are vital to many parts of the state, and rerouting the lines isn’t ideal. Local officials and Gov. Brian Sandoval have voiced opinions against NV Energy ‘s transmission line.

Until parties agree and legislators make it official, supporters of the Tule Springs Wash relish nearing the end of their efforts.

"This has been in the works for years, but it looks like we’re getting close to the finish line," Mortenson said.

For more information, visit tulespringslv.com .

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@viewnews.com or 477-3839.

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