Lawmakers consider bistate environment panel in southern Nevada | NevadaAppeal.com
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Lawmakers consider bistate environment panel in southern Nevada

AMANDA FEHD
Associated Press Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Nevada Assemblyman Harry Mortenson, D-Las Vegas, works in a committee hearing Thursday afternoon at the Legislature. Earlier Thursday, Mortenson presented a proposal to create a bistate advisory commission to deal with water, growth and environmental issues in a remote valley located in a southern Nevada county and two neighboring California counties.
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State lawmakers are considering a bill to create a bistate advisory commission to deal with water, growth and environmental issues in a remote valley located in a southern Nevada county and two neighboring California counties.

Assemblyman Harry Mortenson, D-Las Vegas, told the Assembly Government Affairs Committee on Thursday that his AB447 would affect Sandy Valley, about 40 miles west of Las Vegas on the Nevada-California line.

The commission would be modeled loosely on a panel of scientists and experts that advises the bistate Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which has regulated development at Lake Tahoe since the 1960s.

The proposed Tricounty Desert Advisory Commission would be made up of appointees who would study land-use and environmental issues in Nevada’s Clark County and California’s San Bernardino and Inyo counties.

“There’s a tremendous need to address interstate issues in the desert areas,” said attorney Greg James, representing Inyo County. James added that Inyo County supervisors would like to see amendments so that elected officials could serve on the commission.

“Hopefully we can come up with a bill that will address a key problem, groundwater, growth, a number of issues in that area that have become crucial across the state line,” said James, adding that the county had only heard about the idea this week.

Clark County lobbyist Dan Musgrove also suggested amendments. He endorsed the idea of local representation on the panel, and added that since there’s a lot of federal land in the area, a federal representative might be a good idea.

Nevada’s Nye County also wants to be added to the bill, a county lobbyist said. Nobody spoke on behalf of San Bernardino County.

Representatives of two Sandy Valley organizations urged approval of the bill, saying they were concerned about growth in the region and had been involved in lawsuits in their efforts to protect water resources.

John Bacher, president of the not-for-profit Sandy Valley Public Water Preservation Association, said residents are concerned about water, traffic and pollution issues, whether they live in California or Nevada.

He said San Bernardino County has issued permits to farms for water-pumping in the area that far exceeds the water recharge of the basin.

“Sandy Valley is going through a lot of stress that is outlined in the bill. We have water issues that have to be recognized by three counties, since we are a single basin,” Bacher said.

The commission would have 13 members, comprised of six members appointed by each state’s Legislature and one appointed by the states’ governors in alternating years. The group would study water, traffic, zoning, pollution, energy generation and the preservation of wildlife habitat.

Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, suggested 13 members might result in a “large and unwieldy” panel. He also asked how California would help fund the commission.

“To my knowledge, we haven’t even talked to California,” Mortenson replied. “It’s a chicken-and-egg situation. We need to get this through our Legislature first. Then we can talk with confidence to California.”

While the bill says the commission is patterned after the TRPA’s advisory planning commission, Mortenson tried to deflect comparisons between his proposed panel and the TRPA – which has weathered numerous lawsuits since its inception, many based on property rights issues.

“This is strictly an advisory board. It does not have power, whereas the Tahoe agency does,” Mortenson said.