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Lake Tahoe on Monday, November 26, 2018. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

$217 million.

That’s how much Assembly Bill 84 could raise in bonds for conservation and recreation projects across the state. This week, the Assembly voted unanimously to approve the funding, but it still faces a Senate vote before heading to the governor’s desk. The bonding is a continuation of a program, passed by voters in 2002, that created funding to benefit state parks, the Las Vegas Wash, the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, wildlife management and the Truckee River watershed.

One of the most notable projects under the 2002 program was the creation of a dedicated bike path on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. That first part of that bike path is set to open in June. Funding from the proposed bonds in the bill would go toward completing the other sections.

The bill, backed by the governor’s office, specifies particular agencies and programs to receive bonds. For instance, the legislation allocates $30 million to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) for state parks, $30 million to the Department of Wildlife, $30 million to the Springs Preserve and $30 million to the Division of Museums and History for improving the East Ely Depot, the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City and the Caliente Railroad Depot.

Several other programs could get a financial boost from the bill. The legislation carves out potential funding for the Truckee and Carson rivers and the Las Vegas Valley Rim Trail. It also gives DCNR the ability to issue grants for local governments and groups looking to acquire conservation land, improve sagebrush habitat and conduct post-wildfire rehabilitation.

Amid concern that the bill would not benefit rural Nevada, backers stressed that the benefits of conservation projects are often felt by Nevadans who live miles away. Nevadans that reside in Clark County, for instance, might have a hunting tag that brings them to Battle Mountain or Elko.

The bond program would significantly boost conservation funding. For some programs, the presence of state funding for projects could open up more federal grant dollars. In some cases, the Department of Wildlife can get a federal match of three dollars for every one dollar it puts down.

But the funding likely won’t start rolling out until the next biennium. In the case of DCNR, the expansive natural resources agency plans to work on drafting regulations for the bonds during the next biennium. DCNR expects the program to begin after the next legislative session.

Four more days in the session. My colleagues covering the Legislature are some of the hardest working and dedicated people I know. Please check out their work on our site. And I’ll continue following the bill above, as well as several lingering natural resources issues. Until then…

A bipartisan public land issue: Bipartisan support for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In Nevada? Well, it happened. Sort of. Both legislative branches unanimously passed Assembly Joint Resolution 8 opposing the elimination of the Nevada state office for the BLM, which oversees more than 65 percent of the land in the state. The move was a strong rebuke over controversial plans to split up state BLM offices by geographic areas. Former Gov. Brian Sandoval and other groups expressed their concerns to The Nevada Independent last year.

No on military expansions: The Legislature also moved two resolutions opposing military base expansions in Southern and Northern Nevada. Assembly Joint Resolution 7, which was enrolled and delivered to the secretary of state on Tuesday, stated opposition to the Navy’s proposal to expand Naval Air Station Fallon by about 600,000 acres, a sweeping move that would limit access to public land for hunters and ranchers and even require re-routing part of a state road.

The second resolution, Assembly Joint Resolution 2, states the Legislature’s opposition to the Air Force’s proposal to expand the Nevada Test and Training Range by about 300,000 acres, carving out a large chunk from the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, first designated in 1936 by President Roosevelt to protect bighorn sheep. As the Review Journal reported, the resolution asks Congress to reject the request and instead work on a compromise deal with the Air Force.

Two expansions. Two branches. At public comment meetings for the proposals over the last year, speakers have asked military officials why withdrawing more than one million acres of public land across the state is necessary. If both branches are conducting similar flight testing, why can’t they merge operations or share facilities? Military officials have argued that’s not possible with the current backlog and the inherent need for larger bases. They argue that the ranges need to be expanded to simulate modern warfare in which planes drop bombs from greater elevations and distances. The big question: What will Congress do next?

Geothermal 2.0: Nevada has the second most untapped geothermal resources of any state, according to a 2008 assessment from the U.S. Geological Survey. But there’s a big catch. Geothermal energy, which can be harnessed to run a turbine and produce electricity,  is often a hidden from plain sight. Without any surface signs, exploring for geothermal can be risky and costly, a fact that can push smaller players out of the market. The Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology is working on processes to better identify blind geothermal resources as interest increases in carbon-free energy. Last week, the bureau announced two discoveries of hidden geothermal systems with an analysis that included basic machine-learning.

  • ICYMI: We recorded a podcast earlier this year with the state geologist on these issues.

Oil! Or no oil? It is an odd thing. Nevada is not a top-producing oil state. But for opponents of oil and gas leasing on public land, it has become a focal point. Nevada might not have a lot of oil but it has a lot of public land. The federal government, in one fashion or another, owns more than 85 percent of the land within Nevada’s borders. Every year, hundreds of thousands of acres of that public land are nominated for oil and gas leasing, but even industry lobbyists have conceded that those bids do not reflect legitimate interest. That dynamic has raised questions about speculation, frustrating everyone from environmentalists to legitimate industry players. Last week, the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress released a report centered around the noncompetitive oil and gas leasing in Nevada, using the state as an example of issues across federal public lands in the West.

Clips from the news:

  • Tahoe clarity recovers from drought followed by extreme rain and snow (RGJ)
  • Mountain West leads nation in construction, but can't keep up with population (KUER)
  • Water agencies OK red-ink budget reflecting construction spending (Review-Journal)
  • NASA begins urban drone traffic management testing in Nevada (Press Release)
  • Drone video from Lamoille Canyon nearly eight months after a wildfire (RGJ)
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