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Report: Nevada's infrastructure needs reflect the state's rural-urban divide

When it comes to infrastructure, there are two Nevadas.

A report released last week by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state’s overall infrastructure a “C” grade, but said the mediocre grade only told half the story. Engineers who compiled the study found a stark divide between infrastructure in the state’s concentrated urban areas and the sparsely populated rural areas, which comprise about 90 percent of the state.

“One thing we have to remember is we sort of have a tale of two states — where we have two vibrant areas with most of the population — and 15 rural counties without the same means of securing public revenue for their infrastructure,” said Chuck Joseph, one of the lead authors.

The report came with several policy recommendations to raise the grade, urging rural counties to adopt fuel tax indexing, a tool to raise local revenue for road repairs by tying county-wide gasoline taxes to inflation. Voters in Clark County and Washoe County have already adopted fuel indexing, but a ballot measure to enact similar rules in rural counties failed in 2016.

Most of the state’s $450 million road repair backlog exists in rural areas that see less traffic, the report said. Even so, the engineers argued the disparity can have economic consequences.

“Adequate investment in our roads and bridges is critical to ensuring that freight move seamlessly throughout the state,” said the study, which is released with an infrastructure report card. “Tourists are easily able to access the parks, casinos and other forms of entertainment; and our rural citizens can enjoy the same quality of life as our urban residents.”

The report also recommended that legislators fund the State Infrastructure Bank, which was authorized last year. The bank would provide local governments with the ability to obtain loans and grants that could fund infrastructure improvements. In the 86-page report, civil engineers also stressed that budgets should provide enough funding for operations and maintenance for new infrastructure, a preventative action that would defer more costly future improvements.

Of the 12 infrastructure categories examined by the report, dams scored the lowest on the report card, earning a “D+,” which the rubric described as “Poor: At Risk.”

Despite being the most arid state in the West, Nevada has more than 656 dams and regulators believe 154 of them have a “high hazard” potential, meaning a breach could lead to fatalities or property damage. Most of the state’s dams are used for irrigation or flood control, though some impound mine tailings. Others play a role in supporting fish habitats and create hydropower.

As with roads, funding remains an issue in dam improvements.

The report floated the price tag of about $40 million to fix critical dams, and the study noted that state funding and staffing for high hazard dams is about half of the national average.

“Additional funding is needed to bridge the gap between the state’s dam safety budget and the national average,” the report said. “This would allow for the state program to employ additional staff and provide additional services to the public and other entities.”

Part of the issue in repairing dams is that many of them are privately owned. Tanner Hartranft, an author who co-chaired the report card committee for the Nevada section, said that dynamic can make the state’s job difficult because it is left to give recommendations to private entities.

“The overall theme is there really is a lack of staffing and a lack of funding available for all the private owners to maintain and basically keep their dams up,” he said.

Hoover Dam, which is managed by the federal government, was not included in the report.

The report identified drinking water as another area where the state needed to improve. Citing the Environmental Protection Agency’s 6th Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey, it noted that Nevada could need to invest $5.3 billion in its water systems over the next two decades. A majority of that funding is required to keep up with growth by creating increased capacity.

On this issue, the report again illustrated a clear divide between rural and urban areas.

When state regulators reviewed 598 public water systems last year, 28 water systems were out of compliance with primary federal drinking water standards. They were all in rural Nevada.

“Most of these communities rely on well water with limited treatment, and the cost of treatment for some of these items can far exceed the budgets of small community public water systems,” the report noted.

The last civil engineer report for Nevada came out in 2014, where the state received a “C-” grade. The most recent report card’s grade of a “C” was an improvement for the state, reflecting gains in aviation, bridges, roads, transit and school infrastructure. The dams category stayed the same. Solid waste was the only area where engineers downgraded Nevada’s grade.

Solid waste received a “C” grade.

“Rural parts of the state, in particular, are faced with limited and expensive methods for managing municipal solid waste,” the report said. “We’re also falling short of our statewide goal to recycle 25 percent of municipal solid waste each year. Nevadans will need to recycle the equivalent of nearly 100 Olympic size swimming pools more worth of waste each year to meet this goal.”


Local
top story
Campaign signs linger along city streets

ELKO – The 2018 election is history, but some candidates’ campaign signs live on.

Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske is among the politicians who still had campaign signs prominently displayed along 12th Street in Elko as of Dec. 31. Her office is in charge of supervising state and local elections, among other duties.

State law sets time periods for the placement of campaign signs along interstate and primary highways, but not on private property. Twelfth Street is a city road, not a highway, but the City of Elko follows Nevada Revised Statutes on the placement of signs and when they can be displayed.

Nevada law states that campaign signs must be placed on highway right-of-way not more than 60 days before a primary election and removed within 30 days after a primary election if the candidate loses or within 30 days after the general election if the candidate advances.

For more information on highway campaign signs or to report a violation, contact the Department of Transportation at 775-888-7000.


House Democrats have plan to re-open government

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats are introducing a package of bills Monday that would re-open the federal government without approving money for President Donald Trump’s border wall.

The House is preparing to vote as soon as the new Congress convenes Thursday, as one of the first acts after Democrats take control, according to an aide who was not authorized to discuss the plan and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The package to end the shutdown will include one bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels, with $1.3 billion for border security, through Feb. 8.

It will also include six other bipartisan bills — some that have already passed the Senate — to fund the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Housing and Urban Development and others closed by the partial shutdown. They would provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, to Sept. 30.

Democrats under Nancy Pelosi are all but certain to swiftly approve the package in two separate votes planned for Thursday. What’s unclear is whether the Republican-led Senate, under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will consider it or if Trump would sign it into law.

The partial government shutdown is in its second week over Trump’s demand for $5 billion for the wall. Republican senators left for the holidays refusing to vote on any bills until all sides, including Trump, were in agreement. Senators were frustrated that Trump had dismissed their earlier legislation.

The president continued to insist he wants to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, despite the assertions of three confidants.

“An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED,” Trump tweeted Monday. “Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides).”

Trump’s comments came after officials, including his departing chief of staff, indicated that the president’s signature campaign pledge to build the wall would not be fulfilled as advertised. White House chief of staff John Kelly told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Sunday that Trump abandoned the notion of “a solid concrete wall early on in the administration.”

“To be honest, it’s not a wall,” Kelly said, adding that the mix of technological enhancements and “steel slat” barriers the president now wants along the border resulted from conversations with law enforcement professionals.

Along the same lines, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway called discussion of the apparent contradiction “a silly semantic argument.”

“There may be a wall in some places, there may be steel slats, there may be technological enhancements,” Conway told “Fox News Sunday.” ‘’But only saying ‘wall or no wall’ is being very disingenuous and turning a complete blind eye to what is a crisis at the border.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is close to the president, emerged from a Sunday lunch at the White House to tell reporters that “the wall has become a metaphor for border security” and referred to “a physical barrier along the border.”

Graham said Trump was “open-minded” about a broader immigration agreement, saying the budget impasse presented an opportunity to address issues beyond the border wall. But a previous attempt to reach a compromise that addressed the status of “Dreamers” — young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — broke down last year as a result of escalating White House demands.

Graham told CNN before his lunch with Trump that “there will never be a deal without wall funding.”

The partial government shutdown began Dec. 22 after Trump bowed to conservative demands that he fight to make good on his vow and secure funding for the wall before Republicans lose control of the House on Wednesday. Democrats have remained committed to blocking any funding for the wall, and with neither side engaging in substantive negotiation, the effect of the partial shutdown was set to spread and to extend into the new year.

In August 2015 during his presidential campaign, Trump made his expectations for the border explicitly clear, as he parried criticism from rival Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.

“Jeb Bush just talked about my border proposal to build a ‘fence,’” he tweeted. “It’s not a fence, Jeb, it’s a WALL, and there’s a BIG difference!”

Trump suggested as much again in a tweet on Sunday: “President and Mrs. Obama built/has a ten foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound. I agree, totally necessary for their safety and security. The U.S. needs the same thing, slightly larger version!”

Trump tweeted Monday to Democrats: “come back from vacation now and give us the votes necessary for Border Security, including the Wall.”


State-and-regional
Nevada Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak marries finance Kathy Ong

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak has announced that he and fiancee Kathy Ong married on Friday in Las Vegas.

The governor-elect said in a statement that he and Ong married at Guardian Angel Cathedral and that he his wife “will make Nevada proud” as first lady.

Sisolak is a Clark County commissioner and a Democrat who will take office as governor in January after defeating Republic Adam Laxalt in the November general election.

Sisolak’s statement said Ong will take his name. She is an Ely native and a Las Vegas financial consultant. The couple announced their engagement in November.

Sisolak and his former wife divorced.