By Vernon Robison
Moapa Valley Progress
In a contentious city council meeting held last week, Mesquite Mayor Mark Weir was forced to cast a dramatic tie-breaking vote that, in effect, retained a 2010 City Resolution which declared the City in favor of designating the Gold Butte area as a National Conservation Area (NCA).
With his vote, Weir broke a deadlock on a motion made by City Council member Kraig Hafen to rescind City Resolution 669 and to allow 120 days for public discussion and debate on a new resolution. Resolution 669 (City of Mesquite Revisits Gold Butte Resolution: Progress May 19, 2010), passed in May of 2010, supported an NCA designation but included specific requirements that a permanent committee be established by Congress to ensure public involvement in a management plan for the area.
Hafen admitted that he had been one of the people who had helped in drafting Resolution 669. He stated that he and Mesquite Justice of the Peace Ron Dodd had become involved as a reaction to an earlier City Resolution on the Gold Butte issue (City of Mesquite Voices Support For Gold Butte NCA: Progress Nov. 4, 2009)
“In the first resolution [Resolution 649 passed in October 2009], then-Mayor Holecheck just worked with [Friends of Gold Butte President] Nancy Hall,” Hafen said. “Then about one minute later it was all done. If there was no participation it is because we were all asleep and it got shoved through real fast. We got involved and, as a result, this resolution exists with some of the recommendations that were here. But it was just a starting point. I want more public input. This is a Mesquite issue. We have one shot to let the federal government know where we stand. That is what this is about. We need to do it right.”
Councilmember Karl Gustaveson said that there had been plenty of public input on the matter.
“This process has been going on for 2-3-4 years,” Gustaveson said. “When people say that there has been no participation it makes me shake my head. There has been a lot of participation.”
Nevertheless, Gustaveson said there were still a lot of misconceptions by the public about the issue. He asked for the resolution to be read in full at the meeting so that people would know exactly what it said.
“I ask you does that sound so bad to you?” Gustaveson said after it was read. “That is what everybody has been asking for and that is what we put in there. We can throw this out like a lot of other things that would be good for our economy. But if we take this away, we will have nothing. If we don’t pull together, they [the federal government] will do it for us.”
Councilman Allan Litman admitted that there were a lot of unanswered questions in the resolution. But he pointed out that a resolution, by its nature, is non-specific, temporary and advisory in nature.
“When a law is infeasible or unnecessary, a resolution is used,” Litman said. “The final answers [on Gold Butte] are not going to come from us. They will come from the federal government. Do I like it? No. Will I have to live with it? Probably.”
Councilman George Rapson stated that he was puzzled by the language of the resolution. He believed that it needed some “tweaking and fixing”.
“I love the standing committee idea,” Rapson said. “But when is that going to happen? The resolution says the committee is to be formed by an act of Congress. You’ve got to be kidding me! They haven’t passed anything in forever. The committee is supposed to assist in the drafting of the NCA but the committee hasn’t even been created. We are not assisting in the drafting of an NCA at all. There is no committee. I don’t understand what it is saying.”
Rapson said that the whole issue should be revisited and the position of the city, clarified.
“I believe that Mesquite needs a clear voice on this thing,” he said. “Not an environmental voice which seems to be the loudest right now. We cannot have groups advocating on behalf of the city, whoever they are.”
Weir said that it was important for Mesquite to maintain a position on the issue.
“I think at this point for Mesquite to back out of this discussion will leave us in a position where we have nothing to negotiate,” Weir said. “I don’t think that will leave us in a position that is good for the citizens of Mesquite.”
Weir said that he had spoken to the members of the Congressional delegation and they had each assured him in their intentions to accomodate multiple use at Gold Butte including OHV, hiking and other historical uses. But Weir admitted having concerns about how the special management would be paid for.
“I’ve been watching the site usdebtclock.org and seeing $16 trillion in [national] debt and $118 trillion in unfunded liability,” Weir said. “Meanwhile the BLM budget is cut by 6% in 2012 and there are other mandated cuts across the board for all departments. We can say NCA will add to protection. But in talking to BLM, the NCA moves us up the priority list for possibly more money. It doesn’t guarantee it. This won’t guarantee protection, folks! If we want to protect [Gold Butte], we are going to have to do it with or without an NCA. It will take a lot of volunteer hours and looking after it on our own.”
Hafen made the motion to suspend the resolution for further public discussion. But City Attorney Cheryl Hunt said that, since the resolution already was approved, it could only be rescinded or brought back for discussion and possible amendment. Hafen then made the motion to rescind and allow 120 days of discussion.
Gustaveson voiced his dissent. “It doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “I can see what he would like to do, to work through and make changes. But by taking it totally out is sending a message worldwide that Mesquite has dropped its support.”
The motion was put to a vote. Hafen and Rapson voted in favor. Gustaveson and Litman were opposed. Councilmember Geno Withelder was absent from the meeting. So Weir cast the tie-breaking vote against the motion.
“We can’t go forward without direction,” Weir said. “We need to be at the table. If we say we are not at the table for the next 120 days, if there is a question, then we really can’t do anything about it. We can’t make a comment.”
Rapson made another motion to retain the resolution but revisit the matter in 120 days, after time for more public comment, to draft a new resolution that would clarify the issues.
The motion died for lack of a second.