LAS VEGAS - More airplanes will be able to fly in and out of Las Vegas in the future now that President Clinton has signed legislation to sell federal land to create a second airport.
''The president's signature on this legislation could not have come a moment too soon,'' Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said. ''McCarran airport will be at capacity by the end of this decade, and timing is critical to ensure we can meet the transportation demands of the Southern Nevada area.''
The legislation Clinton signed Friday allows the Bureau of Land Management to sell Clark County about 6,500 acres in Ivanpah Valley, a dry-lake bed about 30 miles south of Las Vegas.
The money would come from Clark County Aviation revenues, such as McCarran International Airport passenger fees and airport concessions.
The new airport's first phase, including two runways, would cost about $500 million and open in 2009 at the earliest, Clark County Aviation Director Randy Walker has said. Ultimately, it could handle 25 million to 30 million passengers, as well as cargo.
McCarran handles about 33 million passengers and is expected to hit its capacity of 55 million passengers in 10 years.
Congressman Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., said the airport will alleviate the burden on McCarran and support the area's ''continued growth and prosperity.''
Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., called the legislation ''a great victory for Nevada.''
Reid and Gibbons led the Ivanpah fight over a number of roadblocks in Congress, primarily concerns that the airport would spur urban sprawl and endanger wildlife in the Mojave National Preserve across the California border.
The two were able to work out compromises with lawmakers and environmentalists. The legislation calls for an environmental-impact study.
Reid added two amendments: The Federal Aviation Administration must complete an airspace management plan early in the development process; and federal money from the land sale would be available to protect petroglyphs in Clark County and to buy privately held land in the Mojave National Preserve.