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Elko city planners recommend not banning pot sales

ELKO – The Elko Planning Commission rejected a proposal Tuesday to ban marijuana sales in the city through a zoning amendment, in a narrow 4-3 vote.

The proposal was passed down to the Elko Planning Commission for recommendation after an initial vote by Elko City Council at their Oct. 24 meeting. Councilman John Patrick Rice was the only one on the five-member council to oppose the ban.

Now the proposal will return to the council, which may adopt the ban in spite of the planning commission’s recommendation.

“It is really rare for the City Council to go against the planning commission’s recommendation, but we have done it before,” Rice told the Elko Daily Free Press. “My opinion on the issue is that the people of Nevada voted for it, so the people of Elko deserve the same liberties as they have. I don’t think the vote will change at council, but we will be discussing it.”

Police Chief Ben Reed assembled news articles and research that indicated there would be further strains on local law enforcement if the amendment was not passed.

“As officers we take an oath to uphold the state, local, and federal laws,” said Lt. Ty Trouten in presenting Reed’s notes to the planning commission. “When these laws do not align, then it creates issues for the Elko Police Department. There have been mixed studies that do not show the benefits of marijuana. It interferes with cash transactions for any business and that leads to more targets for robberies, accompanied by DUI issues and traffic control problems for those businesses if it did not pass, and complaints for minors would rise if this passed. Law enforcement is not in favor of either should we be at liability, as there would be no additional funding to provide resources to the additional law enforcement to address these problems.”

Commissioner Stefan Beck brought up several questions about how the zoning amendment would affect the state’s rights versus the city’s view of the issue. Beck also commented on how other businesses in different cities in the state have licenses to sell, and then questioned how the state could also potentially stop the drug from coming across the border or limiting the illegal drug trades in the state.

Commissioner Kevin Hodur commented throughout the hearing how the two options sitting in front of the council troubled him, as the only barrier on the issue seemed to be the federal law which prohibits it.

City Attorney Dave Stanton was present to answer questions regarding the difference between state, local and federal laws on the issue, as well as identify the key differences between a zoning ordinance and the business licensing procedures for the City of Elko.

“This is to prohibit business and it’s currently unlawful under the Federal Controlled Substance Act,” said Stanton. “We also have to keep in mind the neighboring Indian tribe as a sovereign nation who operates under different regulations and who tabled the issue of a dispensary recently. Also, it’s just a very complex issue, but the land use would enable people to make plans for their subsequent property. It just needs to be addressed one way or another.”

Assistant City Manager Scott Wilkinson also commented to the commission that if they didn’t address the issue it would leave the City of Elko open to litigation at any time on the issue of marijuana businesses.

Commissioner Jeff Dalling commented that people could easily drive to Las Vegas or Reno to purchase the drug. Commissioner David Freistroffer talked extensively about weighing the option to revisit the issue to address the business licensing aspect and its potential for the city.

“The more access there is to a drug, the more usage there is,” said Commissioner Aaron Martinez toward the end of the discussion.

Hodur moved to forward a recommendation to city council to not approve the amendment. Beck seconded the motion.

Dalling, Martinez, and Tera Hooiman voted against the motion. Freistroffer and John Anderson voted with Hodur and Beck to pass the motion.

“The planning commission is a recommending board to the city council,” Rice told the Elko Daily. “They take a closer look at these things and look to follow and interpret statutes pretty closely. There’s part of the statute that says that they cannot issue a business license if they are not in compliance with local, state and federal law.”

The Elko City Council will have a second public hearing on the amendment at their next meeting Dec. 12, taking the Planning Commission’s recommendation into account.

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Mining engineer to run for Miss Nevada USA

ELKO — Mining engineer and wildland firefighter Ruby B. Johnson wants to add another title to her résumé: Miss Nevada USA.

Representing northeastern Nevada as Miss Elko County, Johnson plans to compete for the designation at the Miss Nevada USA pageant in Las Vegas on Jan. 7.

“It’s very unconventional to have a mining engineer in a pageant,” Johnson said.

A win in the Nevada contest would mean competing for Miss USA and possibly Miss Universe. The last time a Nevadan won the Miss USA crown was 2014, but no Nevada winner has won the top title in the program’s 66-year history.

“I feel it is time for the Battle Born State,” Johnson said.

Nevada winners are rare, as are contestants from outside of the Las Vegas area. Johnson said she hopes to change that while shining a spotlight on the state’s mining industry and women in engineering.

“It’s a wonderful mining state,” she said, “and it’s a wonderful place to be a mining engineer.”

Johnson works as one of four mining engineers employed by the U.S. Forest Service. She is stationed in Elko at the Mountain City, Ruby Mountains, Jarbidge Ranger District office. Her position requires her to provide technical assistance such as information about ground stability and hydrology to mines on public lands.

“Ruby represents the vast diversity of Elko County and the importance of mining in the community with her mining engineer background,” said Susan G. Summer Elliott, minerals and geology program manager for the U.S. Forest Service Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. “We are so proud to have Ruby representing Elko in the pageant. Ruby is a gem and can best represent our gold country heritage in the silver state of Nevada.”

Pageants might be unfamiliar with the mining industry, but Johnson is no stranger to the stage. In 2012, Johnson won the title of Miss Sierra Leone USA while studying engineering and minoring in women’s studies leadership at Virginia Tech.

Johnson was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, in 1990 in the midst of a civil war. Seeking safety and a better life, her mother moved to Maryland while Johnson and her father waited in Nigeria.

“Her goal, like most parents, was ‘I want my children to have a better life than me,’” she said, explaining that she moved to the U.S. when she was 12 years old and became a U.S. citizen.

A desire to connect with the Sierra Leone community and love of service led Johnson to enter the Miss Sierra Leone USA pageant. At first, her mother lovingly laughed at her daughter’s goal because Johnson didn’t like wearing makeup or smiling. To prepare, Johnson said she watched YouTube videos of past pageants, practiced her talent of belly dancing and performed for family. She even started wearing makeup at age 21. Now, she smiles almost nonstop.

When Johnson won Miss Sierra Leone, 10 years after she moved from that country, the crown also came with the prize of an international trip. Her Sierra Leonean “homecoming,” as she called it, included visiting a diamond mine, as the country is rich in minerals and a top diamond producer. Wanting international mining experience, the newly crowned Miss Sierra Leone asked the mining company for an internship.

“I’m pretty sure they thought I was joking,” Johnson said.

Johnson wasn’t joking. She landed the internship and returned to Sierra Leone to serve in the mine’s quarry, drilling, blasting and surveying. Being a woman in mining, being from the country where she worked and wearing the Miss Sierra Leone crown turned heads.

“That made them proud, too,” Johnson said, “because they were like, ‘Look, this is one of our own.’”

When not working in the mine, Johnson took time to meet with local girls to encourage them to pursue a field in science, technology, engineering or math, just like she was doing.

“I realized the power of using the crown for a good cause,” Johnson said. “Growing up, I didn’t see examples of women in engineering. I love that girls get to see that [now]. It gives me a bigger platform.”

Johnson said she appreciates the Miss Universe competition for recognizing that a pageant winner needs to be more than a beauty icon. “Confidently Beautiful” is the program motto, and Elliott said Johnson meets that criterion.

“Ruby is full of life and is everyone’s best friend,” Elliott said. “She is especially caring and humble, always looking for opportunities to help those in need. She is ready to go for whatever life has to offer and can transform herself from a day in the field with a hard hat and steel-toed boots to polished evening gowns.”

Paraphrasing a quote popularly attributed to Marilyn Monroe, Johnson said, “It’s all about giving a girl the right shoes, and she will conquer the world.”

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Governor's office examines broadband in Spring Creek

ELKO — Slow internet speeds affecting Spring Creek customers were brought to the attention of a team from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office Wednesday, who are searching for ways to improve data service to the growing community.

At a meeting of business and government leaders Dec. 6, Jojo Myers Campos, broadband manager for the Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation and Technology, and members of the E-Rate Central Nevada team discussed options for Spring Creek and Elko County residents to receive high-speed internet.

The goal for the meeting was to examine “a whole community approach,” Myers Campos said, and lay a “strong enough foundation and a thick enough foundation … for our future progress.”

Including Spring Creek in the discussion was important to “tie in … and connect the dots” to prevent having a “fragmented” community, she said.

Myers Campos also cautioned that it could take some time before results of the meeting could be seen.

“Nothing in broadband happens fast,” she said. “We’re just now starting this journey.”

Jessie Bahr, Spring Creek Association president and general manager, said Spring Creek residents have been dealing with slow internet speeds for years and asked the team for guidance in resolving problems with Frontier Communications, the area’s main provider.

“We have a population that’s growing,” Bahr said. “[The population] is rivaling Elko. It’s coming up quickly.”

Currently, an urgent care is under construction and a new elementary school — both in the Marina Hills area — is set to break ground next year. The projects increase the need for stronger internet service, along with homeowner and business owner needs, Bahr said.

“What can we do? Our homeowners are crying out to us and they are in such frustration,” Bahr said.

“It’s a constant headache” for some residents who take online classes, she said, explaining that she has met with Frontier representatives and is working with the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to resolve the matter.

More than 50 complaints about Frontier have been received by the BCP, Bahr said. “We don’t know what route to go.”

Myers Campos said Frontier Communications provides a four-gigabyte circuit to Spring Creek, “but they don’t have the equipment on the other end for that four-gig circuit.”

M. Duane Barton, computer systems director for the Elko County School District, told the team that potential fiber optic cables needed for the schools could be used by other businesses “as a transport back into town.”

The cables would go up to Spring Creek High School, Barton said; however, there were plans to extend it to the new elementary school in Marina Hills.

Rise Broadband is another option for Elko/Spring Creek customers, Bahr said, but she wasn’t sure about their capacity.

“Rise is in the process of building an enterprise system,” said David Kirkham, vice president of information technology at the Elko Federal Credit Union, adding it would service business customers in Elko. “Where that project is right at the moment, I have no idea.”

Ken Krater, owner and developer of Ruby Vista Ranch in Spring Creek, said he has been in talks with Southwest Gas Corp. for a natural gas pipeline to service a planned residential area next to the association, and believes the trench could be used for a fiber optic cable.

“[It] affords the opportunity to jointly trench and put in a conduit for fiber optic lines and bring that right into the heart of the Spring Creek area,’ Krater said.

Another goal is to find out who wants to be a player in talks to be an internet provider. Myers Campos said AT&T is not interested because Frontier is the primary in the area, leaving AT&T a wireless solution only, and “I would be shocked if Frontier wants to be a player.”

Myers Campos said she attended the consumer session in September and said she wanted to help.

“Right now, we want to keep the whole community approach,” she said.

The team is in Elko for two days of meetings with community members who represent public safety, health care and businesses.

Clarification: This article has been changed to explain how AT&T serves the area.