Editorials around Nevada

Here are excerpts of recent Nevada newspaper editorials on topics of state interest:

July 30

Reno Gazette-Journal on the Reno trench:

These are not just routine questions, and they do not come from an uninformed group of critics.

The subject is the city of Reno's proposed trench for the downtown railroad tracks, and the draft environmental impact statement from the company hired by the Federal Highway Administration and the Nevada Department of Transportation. Asking the questions are Sierra Pacific Power Co., the Washoe District Health Department, the Regional Water Planning Commission, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, the city of Sparks and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And their concern is the Truckee River: A possible harmful effect on the drinking water for east Reno and Sparks and possible contamination in general. You can't get much more serious than that.

The project would consolidate six small storm drains to collect runoff from northwest Reno streets and release them 1.3 miles above Sierra Pacific's Glendale water treatment plant. Included would be storm water from the trench itself, which Sierra Pacific and the federal EPA fear might transport chemicals and grease spills directly into the river. The big pipe would have an oil water separator, but Sierra Pacific and the EPA say this might not work effectively during a sudden rainstorm; the treatment plant might not have time to react effectively. In addition, many hazardous materials are not oil-based and would not be caught by an oil separator.

The Health Department worries that the soil might be more contaminated than now believed, not just from the years of trains but the businesses that once existed here: The dry cleaners, the gas stations, the paint stores. The Health Department says that soil and water samples taken for the draft EIS were taken from wells not in the immediate area where the trench will be built; the department wants wells drilled next to the tracks.

Sierra Pacific is also concerned that moderately contaminated soil excavated from the trench might be reused within the river corridor, and wants guarantees against that.

It is most frustrating that these comments had to be obtained by a reporter from the questioners rather than from the FHWA and the state. These two agencies are not releasing copies of the comments that have been made on the draft EIS.

The city is no help, either. In fact, minutes from the July 10 Project Development Team meeting state that one city staffer asked if it was OK to respond to phone calls with details about the comments, and ''She was told that the less detailed information she makes public right now, the better.'' Isn't that wonderful?

To be sure, the law does not require the comments to be released at this time, but many agencies do release them in an attempt to be forthright with the public. It is too bad that the same enlightened policy is not operating with the train trench.

The final EIS will cite the comments and give responses to them. Those responses might well be satisfactory. But they will have to be. The river must be protected, absolutely and without qualification.

Las Vegas Sun on federal land auctions:

Some Las Vegas Valley developers believe a law that requires the auction of federal government lands is too rigid. The provision in dispute requires that bids can't start below the appraised value of the land, a prospect developers contend decreases the likelihood of more sales. But Congress should refrain from tinkering in even the slightest way with this 1998 law, which still is in its infancy.

As the Sun's Mary Manning reported a week ago, while 20 of 23 parcels were sold in November at the first auction under this legislation, just 35 of the 87 Bureau of Land Management parcels were bought in June at the latest auction. Sure, the minimum bidding requirement means that there might be less money for the BLM to buy environmentally sensitive lands from these proceeds, but an equally important consideration is that the taxpayer shouldn't be the loser just because some buyers don't want to pay enough money to buy what typically are landlocked federal government lands in urban areas of the valley.

Appraisals certainly aren't a foolproof science. Two individuals with extensive backgrounds in the field can come to different conclusions. Still, the requirement that the lands be sold at this minimum level is reasonable. For that matter, the appraisals can be appealed by the prospective purchasers. The fact is that there have been too many instances in the past where some buyers have been able to use their clout to get land for prices far below their value. This provision is an important safeguard to ensure that the land is sold at its fair market value.

The bottom line is that the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act is a critical piece of reform legislation that benefits both the environment and the taxpayers. Let's give the law time to work.


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