RENO — A federal agency is considering a compromise that would allow a popular off-highway race from Las Vegas to Reno next week with a slower, no-pass zone through part of a new national monument.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is mulling final approval of the 640-mile, two-day “Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno Race” that would pass though the Basin and Range National Monument that President Obama designated last summer, said Michael Herder, manager of the agency’s Ely District.
Conservation groups have objected to plans for the race scheduled to begin Aug. 19 in Alamo, about 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
The compromise intended to minimize ecological impact on the monument makes sense, John Hiatt, a member of a BLM advisory panel who represents environmental organizations, told the Reno-Gazette Journal.
The plan would set the speed limit at 35 mph on existing dirt roads through a 37-mile stretch of the monument. It also would prohibit racers from passing each other inside the boundaries of the monument that covers 1,100 square miles north of Las Vegas.
“It is a compromise that actually could work,” said Hiatt, a member of BLM’s Mojave-Southern Great Basin Resource Advisory Council.
The 20th annual race is scheduled to finish Aug. 20 near Dayton, east of Carson City. The event is expected to draw as many as 5,000 spectators and a field of 340 all-terrain vehicles, including trucks, cars, dune buggies and motorcycles.
There is no regulatory or scientific reason to deny a special recreation permit for the race that sponsors bill as the longest off-highway vehicle race in the U.S., Nevada Reps. Mark Amodei and Cresent Hardy said in a letter last week to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
They argued the race could mean up to $40 million in revenue for the rural communities along the route.
The Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has criticized the BLM’s environmental review and accused the agency of effectively rubber-stamping the race before a management plan and other guiding documents have even been written for the monument.
Race organizers applied for a special recreation permit in May 2015, but the BLM didn’t release the environmental assessment until July 1, and it extended a public comment period through Aug. 3. The National Environmental Policy Act allows the agency 14 additional days to consider the comments, which means a final decision may not come until two days before the race.
Conservationists said it’s part of a ploy to prevent them from filing any legal challenges.
“The agency’s consideration of public comments is a fraud, merely a required pretense,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.