Originally published by Joe Schoenmann, Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The “dormant” Red Rock Canyon gypsum mine where Jim Rhodes plans to build a 2,000-plus acre development isn’t dormant after all. At least, that’s what attorneys for Rhodes told county officials last week as they argued for a property tax exemption.
Based on last year’s property tax rates, Rhodes saved about $50,000 with that argument on the land, which is valued at about $5.9 million.
But some residents of Blue Diamond, the small community near the site, and other opponents of the project are convinced that Rhodes is using mining as subterfuge as he prepares to build the housing development.
The revelation that mining is occurring at the site comes two weeks ago after residents declared victory in their fight against the development. Rhodes ended months of debate by withdrawing his request for a waiver to use a scenic byway as a route for construction access.
The Equalization Board, which hears property tax disputes, was interested only in mining. And Rhodes’ representatives promised that mining was, indeed, taking place and that gypsum mining only “temporarily went dormant” in 2005.
As proof, Rhodes’ representatives presented two photos — one showed a piece of heavy machinery boring a hole into the ground with a spiral attachment; another showed a complex with a conveyor belt. Rhodes’ representatives also said expenses of about $11,000 on one parcel, $3,000 on another and more for “preparation, mapping and removal of gypsum … field reconnaissance” and other work had been done and constituted mining.
Don Purdue, a representative of Rhodes’ Gypsum Resources LLC, said samples from the mine were analyzed for the content of gypsum, which determines how it will be used.
“There’s still 12 million tons of gypsum ore on the property, a valuable resource that’s not being mined,” Purdue said.
In October, Purdue sent an application for a reclamation permit to the state Bureau of Mining. The bureau responded in November, saying the operation did not need a permit due to the limited work expected over the next two years.
“The proposed initial activities would not reactivate actual mining, nor create any new surface disturbance,” the letter states, going on to say that Gypsum Resources may crush and screen “previously extracted waste piles from historic mining operations.”
Deputy District Attorney Paul Johnson argued against the exemption, saying the Gypsum Resources affidavit that talks about preparation work “could be someone sitting in an office drawing up a map. They could have walked around. They could have removed a hunk of rock the size of this water bottle for testing.”
“They list a lot of money they’ve spent but it’s hard to tell how much of it is actually legitimate work on the site,” he added. “You can’t come in afterward and say, ‘oh, this is what we did.’ It’s supposed to be clear on the face of the affidavit.”
Johnson also said the affidavit lists expenses related to four parcels and a few hundred acres, but the company wants an exemption for more than 2,000 acres.
Equalization Board members were sympathetic to that argument, but agreed with Rhodes that state law allows the expense on one parcel to be spread out over contiguous parcels. As long as it averages to more than $100 in mining expenses per parcel, those parcels are tax exempt.
By a 4-1 vote, the Equalization Board granted the tax exemption.
Based on comments from Stephanie Allen, one of Rhodes’ consultants, it’s likely the property will come before the board again seeking property tax breaks. Allen said the development will be “under way maybe in the next two years.” But “mining operations will continue as they develop.”
Chris Kaempfer, also a Rhodes consultant, later added that development is “years away.”
Blue Diamond residents said they recently noticed trucks entering and exiting the site from State Route 159. Some said they believe Rhodes is saying he is mining, but is really preparing the site for development.
“It’s an evasion of the processes that the rest of us have to contend with,” said Evan Blythin, of the Red Rock Citizens Advisory Council.
Other opponents of Rhodes’ project made similar allegations.
In any case, the Equalization Board’s decision might not end of this year’s tax dispute. The Clark County Assessor’s Office has the option of appealing the decision to the Nevada Board of Equalization. A spokesman said that decision has not yet been made.