Nevadans to vote on conservation bonds

RENO -- Nevadans are being asked to open their wallets for a statewide bond measure to help wildlife and preserve and protect open space, water quality, parks and cultural resources.

Question 1 on the Nov. 5 general election ballot would authorize up to $200 million in general obligation bonds for various resource projects statewide.

It is the biggest conservation bond measure since 1990, when voters, by a 2-to-1 margin, approved a $47.5 million bond measure for state park improvements and wildlife preservation.

Legislative analysts said the exact cost to taxpayers would depend on when bonds are issued, interest rates and repayment methods. For example, if payments are made as other bonds are retired, it's possible no property tax increases would be needed.

But if the bonds were to be sold before others are paid off, analysts estimate Question 1 could cost owners of a $200,000 home about $18 a year in additional taxes. That assumes all the bonds are issued at once. The tax rate would be lower if bonds were sold on an "as needed" basis.

The ballot argument against passing Question 1 opposes using state tax revenue for conservation projects -- however they may be needed -- because of financial uncertainty in the state.

If the bonds are approved by voters, $27 million would go to the state Parks Division to acquire property or make improvements to existing facilities.

Allen Newberry, operations and maintenance chief for state parks, said 56 projects are earmarked for possible Question 1 funding.

The money, he said, "represents our acquisition and development program for the next 10 years."

Some of the bigger projects on the list include expansion of Mormon Station in Douglas County; improvements to Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe and Valley of Fire in southern Nevada; and construction of a campground at Big Bend State Park on the Colorado River.

If the measure fails, Newberry said the projects will be "put on the back burner" until other funds are provided by lawmakers.

Question 1 was put on the ballot during the special session that had to be convened immediately after the 2001 Legislature because lawmakers didn't get all their work done in the regular session.

If voters approve the measure next week, the state Wildlife Division would get $27.5 million for property acquisition and various projects, including the purchase of water rights for wetlands within state wildlife management areas.

"We believe wildlife and wetlands are going to benefit to a great degree with this bond if it passes," agency spokeswoman Kelly Clark said.

In the 1990 bond measure, $5 million went to purchase water rights for the Lahontan Valley wetlands in Churchill County, she said.

"That's one of the few places that still has water," Clark said, noting three years of drought that has taken a toll on other management areas.

"Fernley Wildlife Management Area is dry. Humboldt is fairly dry. We need to provide water where we can," she said.

The Wildlife Division also would use bond money to restore wildlife habitat destroyed by fire and to obtain easements to public lands in key areas that are isolated by private ownership, Clark said.

Other plans include developing interpretive trails, wildlife observation towers and information and educational displays at management areas throughout the state, as well as helping to fund improvements at state fish hatcheries in Mason Valley and at Lake Mead.

Besides money for parks and wildlife, the ballot measure provides:

-- $25 million to the Las Vegas Springs Preserve in Clark County.

-- $10 million to Clark County for development of a regional wetlands park at the Las Vegas Wash.

-- $35 million to Nevada's Department of Cultural Affairs to establish a museum at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve.

-- $10 million to Washoe County for enhancement and restoration of the Truckee River corridor.

The rest of the bond sale revenue would go to state agencies, local governments and nonprofit organizations for conservation efforts through a grant program administered by the state Lands Division.

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