Lyon County manager has weathered hectic first month
When Lyon County officials put out the call for a new county manager, Donna Kristaponis saw herself in the job description.
The county commissioners sought someone with experience in planning and development, traffic planning, water, sewer, parks and open space.
“That describes my long suit,” said Kristaponis, who had worked five years as assistant city manager of Reno.
And, after many years as assistant, she felt ready to take the lead.
She moved into her county office July 6, the day before the historic Silver City schoolhouse burned to the ground. Then, the Lyon County fire department lost an engine while helping fight the Waterfall fire, a deluge in Stagecoach and Silver Springs wrecked havoc, and West Nile virus was confirmed in mosquitoes trapped in Fernley and Silver Springs.
“While there are things that have happened,” she said of her first hectic month on the job, “we’re doing what needs to be done to be on top of it.”
After her trial by fire – and floods and pestilence – Kristaponis is ready to move on to the regular business of managing a growing community.
After accepting the position as Lyon County manager, Kristaponis and her husband, Ron Weisinger, executive director of the Northern Nevada Development Authority, moved to a temporary home in the county. They plan to build somewhere along the U.S. Highway 50 corridor for easy access to both of their jobs.
It won’t be Kristaponis’ first time in proximity to Highway 50. Before settling in Nevada, she lived in Annapolis, Md., at the eastern end of the same highway.
The couple have lived in Northern Nevada for six years, and several years before that in Las Vegas.
“We weren’t born here (in Nevada), but we got here as quick as we could,” joked Kristaponis.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from the University of Washington, Seattle;, and a master’s degree in public policy at LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.
“We really love it here in Northern Nevada, with its four seasons and the warmth of the community spirit.”
She sees the future of Lyon County built around agriculture and growth. Dayton and Fernley, in particular, are growing rapidly. Growth rates in other areas of the county are expected to pick up speed.
“The Highway 50 corridor will take a lot of attention to ensure it remains a desirable place to live,” she said.
“Douglas County decided it didn’t want growth to continue. It has Tahoe in it’s back yard so it may be able to handle that. There are very few places that can do that without hurting the economy,” she said.
“In Lyon County, there is growth, but we need to be sure it is well planned and the infrastructure is there to take care of it.”
The development of a traffic plan capable of moving more people around the county is on the front burner for Kristaponis and the commissioners, especially alternatives to Highway 50. The goal is to have alternative routes all the way from Dayton to Churchill County so residents can move around without having to go onto the highway.
For some people, it won’t be an easy sell.
“(Opposition has) happened over and over and over in the history of this country. It’s not unique to Lyon County,” she said. “We have to have ways to move people in and out. Typically, (people who don’t like the new roads) move even farther out.
“We’re sympathetic, but we understand it’s an age-old American situation.”
Another need in Dayton is for county services, she said. A satellite office is planned where residents can pick up such things as business licenses and planning and zoning applications.
“We have a strong commitment to putting (county) services in the Dayton area,” she said.
“Nobody should have to drive down to Yerington just because they need a business license,” she said. An office is “a step to being more responsive.”
Another complication to growth in Lyon County, particularly the Yerington area, is the Anaconda Mine. The copper mine owned by Atlantic Richfield is being considered for Superfund status – a double-edged sword.
While the federal designation comes with federal funding, it also means federal control and a stigma to the community.
Superfund designation means “you get someone dictating to you,” Kristaponis said.
It also stifles development by focusing attention on the problem, instead of on getting it fixed.
“Superfund funding is typically pursued when an owner isn’t willing to do what needs to be done to clean it up. Atlantic Richfield planned to do what is necessary to clean up the site.
“Our hydrologist and geologists working on it have indicated it is not affecting drinking water and is not affecting the Walker River,” she said. “If drinking water was affected, it would go faster. But it takes time to bring all the stakeholders together.”
Without the immediate health threat, Kristaponis and the commissioners prefer not to receive Superfund status.
“While I think it is a very sensitive situation, there is a plan in place for rehabilitation that makes a lot of sense.
“What Lyon County is doing is saying ‘come let us reason together.’ Let’s get a plan together with Atlantic Richfield bearing the cost of that plan.”
Despite the emergencies during the first month of her new position, Kristaponis has found Lyon County to her liking.
“Everyone’s been very welcoming. We have a highly motivated staff, quality department heads, elected and appointed.
“In a sense, our resources have been stretched almost to the breaking point with the issues of growth to the infrastructure, service. But people are excited about this time in Lyon County.
“Life is good.”
Sally Taylor is night editor and Dayton reporter for the Nevada Appeal. Contact her at email@example.com or at 881-1210.