The county commission meeting on August 17 was a historic event with record breaking numbers of citizens opposing major project development in Red Rock Canyon. As popular as Red Rock has always been, this was the best showing of public support for the canyon to date. The chambers and overflow halls were packed. Hundreds of expert testimonies were presented from just about every angle, stretching the meeting out over six hours long. Additionally, commissioners received over a thousand emails each and were presented with more than five thousand signatures on a petition asking them to “Save Red Rock Canyon from major project development”.
The vote ended in public outrage as most commissioners voted to approve the concept (only Commissioners Chris G. and Lawrence Weekly voted to deny it). But from what initially seemed like a huge loss, in the aftermath, we find a few very important results to focus on. Jim Rhodes may have won the approval of the concept plan, but he lost some important things as well. He has many more hurdles to cross. In the official Notice of Final Action, we read that Commissioner Brager was able to hold strong to her list of protections for Red Rock despite rising pressure at the end by the developer’s team to remove them.
Yes we have been through some major disappointments and fought some difficult battles, but this latest meeting elicited the strongest public support yet and our efforts did not go unnoticed. The war is not over. The development is far from feasible. Here are some significant wins that have come as a result of the growing public support for Red Rock:
- No County Support for Land Transfer. Commissioner Brager denied the developer’s request to put this issue on the county’s agenda, deferring it to the BLM instead, as managers of the public lands in question. But this doesn’t mean another commissioner couldn’t put it on the agenda. And even though as a matter of courtesy, the commissioners historically defer to the one who’s district it is, the developer’s lawyers have been meeting with other commissioners.
- No More Land Swaps. The federal land swap process was terminated years ago for all the ethics problems it caused. Buying and selling, swaps, exchanges, transfers, whatever they call it, is a very long and expensive undertaking. The BLM said they no longer do land swaps, but that they could buy and sell land if it is in the public’s best interest, or if the county requests it. Another reason to support the county’s decision to keep this off the agenda.
- No Right of Way granted without public process. The BLM must grant approval for the rights-of-way for the highway BEFORE approval of the County Commission for the next phase of the Major Project process, the “Specific Plan”.
- No Access to SR 159 from the development. This important and unexpected condition on the land allows for a safer and less-traveled Scenic Byway. This cannot be changed without an act of congress, so we need to watch what’s happening in Washington.
- Sewer examinations. There must be examined calculations of the proposed sewage system for the development. As the Concept Plan indicated, the waste flows will exit the mountain into the waste system down Rte 160 to the sewer systems of Rhodes’ Ranch and Mountain’s Edge.
- Open Space Area will remain open space going forward and density is limited only to land the developer owns. The development team tried to get Commissioner Brager to change her motion and credit them for open space not included and land they didn’t own so they could artificially increase their density, but she didn’t.
- Possible purchase of the proposed development! In the September 6 meeting, $50 million dollars were revealed by the Manager of the Desert Conservation Program to be used for conservation purposes. Commissioner Chris G. suggested that the county consider allocating these conservation dollars to help the NCA by purchasing these adjacent sensitive lands, if the developer was willing. This would be a win-win for all. The developer could get money for his land that is otherwise unsellable, and everyone else would be relieved to get this sensitive area into public ownership. (Not to mention it would make an amazing campground or wildlife refuge or amphitheatre/park for the county.)
As you can see, there are many reasons to stay positive and keep trudging forward. The problem is that after the last meeting, the wider public thinks that this is a done deal. That the concept plan is the actual plan and that it’s too late to stop the development. So our next hope for Red Rock is in a public awareness campaign that starts tonight with us and spreads out to all the people who love Red Rock Canyon just the way it is!