Legislation lays groundwork for new airport

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Legislation passed by the House Thursday lays the groundwork for a new airport to be built south of Las Vegas.

The bill, which still faces Senate passage and President Clinton's approval, would transfer at fair market value about 6,500 acres from the federal Bureau of Land Management to Clark County. The land is about 30 miles south of Las Vegas in the Ivanpah Valley.

County officials would like to construct a second airport on the dry lake bed to handle a predicted rise in tourist traffic in the coming years. They say McCarran International Airport could reach near capacity by 2008. The Ivanpah airport would open by 2010 at the earliest, officials say.

The state's House members, Democrat Shelley Berkley and Republican Jim Gibbons, said their staffers worked behind the scenes in recent days to craft a compromise with concerned environmental groups in an effort to seal the bill's passage.

Gibbons originally introduced the bill, which passed the House Thursday overwhelmingly, and has been fighting for it for several years.

A collection of environmental groups has said the airport threatens the Mojave National Preserve, about 15 miles from the site just inside the California border. They say sprawl created by the airport could disturb wildlife.

Berkley and Gibbons, a pilot, Thursday introduced several amendments to the bill aimed at easing those concerns. One change would require that a thorough environmental impact study be completed before any construction on the airport begins.

Another change requires that the land would be handed back to the BLM if the federal study found the airport would greatly harm the environment. The BLM would get the land back if the airport had not been built within 20 years. The county would get back the money it paid for the land.

''We've been able to marry and blend the economic needs of our community with the environmental needs as well,'' Berkley said, arguing for the bill's passage on the House floor Thursday.

Gibbons added: ''We have finally found a common ground among all.''

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who introduced a similar Ivanpah bill in the Senate, said he likes the changes the House members approved and will advocate those amendments to the Senate version. His staffers plan to meet next week in Las Vegas with FAA officials to talk over air routes.

''We'll work it out. We need to get the administration on board, and I think we can do that,'' Reid said. ''The Ivanpah Airport is not critical right now, but in 10 or 15 years it will be critical to the economy.''


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