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Police chief reports on crime rate

ELKO – Severe crime decreased 16 percent inside the city limits last year, Elko Police Department Chief Ben Reed reported this week.

There were a total of 1,951 incidents in 2018, which is 383 fewer than in 2017, Reed said in presenting his annual report to the city council.

Severe crime — including murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, rape and a number of other offenses — is also down 20 percent over the five-year average.

“That’s trending in the right direction for sure,” Reed said. “I like to think we have something to do with some of those numbers, but as I always remind the council every year the reasons for crime have been pontificated on for thousands of years to include everything from the full moon to the price of gold or whatever you want to name today.”

Less severe crimes, including DUI, loitering, trespassing and other infractions, totaled 1,370. This sum is up by 45 incidents from 2017.

The report shows that the Elko Police Department made 1,093 arrests in 2018. Of these 1,019 were adults and 74 were juveniles. Four hundred and forty-nine traffic collisions were investigated and 844 citations were issued.

Domestic violence continues to be a problem, with 205 incidents reported for the year. There were 27,299 calls for service, down 41 from the previous year. The agency investigated a total of 2,485 cases, 171 fewer than in 2017.

Reed mentioned that the department is trying to pull together a history of all of the police chiefs since 1917.

“You might think that is pretty easy, but there is quite a gap in the mid-‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s. If anyone has any information, please let us know.”

Elko police officers are now required to use body cameras, Reed noted.

“I have not been bashful in the past in pointing out it’s a state mandate without any funding and has cost us dearly.” Reed said. “But, it is up and running. The troops have learned how to use them this past year.”

Reed said there are about 42 uploads every 24 hours, down from about 100 at the beginning.

“Keep in mind, the officer who is making those recordings in a 12-hour patrol shift has to have a period of time towards the end of that shift to upload those to the system and to categorize them. We think officers are averaging about 30 to 60 minutes per day of actually categorizing and uploading those videos. That is time not spent doing other law enforcement.”

“Do you think they are getting more efficient since they first started?” Mayor Reece Keener asked.

Reed said officers are becoming more adept at the process and he hopes they will eventually be able to keep their digital upload time to approximately 30 minutes per day.

A new radio system approved by the council over a two-year phase-in period is working well, according to the police chief.

“We are set pretty well for or the next 10 to 15 years with technology,” he said.

According to Reed, drugs are still a big problem in the community, with methamphetamine prominent as the drug of choice. He said he is also very concerned about the underage vaping that has become a problem in the schools.

“We are trying to educate the kids,” he said. “Kids seem to be getting the wrong message that vaping is good to go, not like cigarettes; but no, it’s very similar to cigarettes as far as the dangers.”

Reed also reported on staffing developments.

“We have fully implemented our evidence technician position that council authorized well over a year ago,” he said. “I think the total inventory count is important. In 2013 we had almost 11,000 pieces of property of evidence in our custody. In 2017 it was almost 19,000 pieces. In the last year the technician has been able to eliminate about 4,000 plus. This is a very large liability for the city and we have to properly manage that evidence room.”

Reed also said PACE recently installed a green box in the lobby of the police station where the public can drop off outdated prescriptions and other items.

“We take old prescriptions and whatever else gets dumped in there, no questions asked,” he said. “There are always street drugs, syringes and other unidentified stuff. We took in 149 pounds in our lobby every business day through 2018. Of course, our theory is that if that is out of the hands of the public, that is a good thing.”

The department has joined Offender Watch, a program that Reed said many law enforcement organizations use.

“It exchanges data. If you sign up for that in the new system within a five-mile radius, or you can tighten that radius, we can send you notice that there is a registered sex offender in your area or if one moves into your area. We want to be very proactive when it comes to registered sex offenders. A lot of people ask me how many registered sex offenders we have in Elko. We have about 50 to 60.”

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Nevada Republicans roll out legislative priorities

CARSON CITY (AP) — Assembly Republicans on Thursday said educational opportunities, expanding access to mental health services and diversifying the state’s economy are among their priorities this legislative session.

Minority Floor Leader Jim Wheeler acknowledged the caucus’ super minority status in the Assembly at a news conference, but said the lawmakers still represent between 800,000 and 1 million residents.

He said high-paying jobs and a diverse economy have come to the state under Republican and balanced government leadership.

“So we don’t want to see us go backwards,” he said.

Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy described technical and on-site learning as vital and pointed to a bill that would encourage employers to give work-based learning opportunities to students. She also highlighted a bill that would require schools to teach students about the Federalist Papers, government structure and the separation of powers.

Lisa Krasner emphasized legislation she has sponsored that would eliminate the statute of limitations in sex assault cases, if there is DNA evidence identifying the perpetrator.

Under the bill, which is also sponsored by Democratic Sen. Pat Spearman, there would be no limitation on when to prosecute a sexual assault case if a suspect is identified through a “genetic marker analysis of a biological specimen” and a DNA profile is found.

The news conference comes days after Democrats unveiled their legislative priorities, which included affordable health care, better schools and banning private prisons.

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BLM seeks comments on road plan in Charleston area

ELKO – The Bureau of Land Management is seeking comments on a travel management plan covering more than 150,000 acres and 380 miles of roads in northern Elko County.

The BLM’s Elko District Office will conduct an open house to discuss route evaluations for the Charleston Travel Management Area from 3-7 p.m. March 14 at 3900 E. Idaho St.

The Charleston TMA is south of the Jarbidge Wilderness and extends from Mountain City Highway in the west to the Marys River Basin in the east.

Maps of the routes inventoried will be available for review at the meeting. The public is encouraged to review the routes and make comments. BLM representatives will be available to answer any questions.

“Travel management planning is necessary for designating and providing appropriate access to and across public lands for a variety of uses including recreation, hunting, grazing, mineral exploration and energy development,” said the announcement from the BLM. “It consists of three phases: route inventory, route evaluation/analysis and finally the development of the travel plan for each TMA.”

Elko County already has a travel management plan affecting roads on U.S. Forest Service land. Work began on the Forest Service’s travel management plans in 2005 and the process for Elko County’s plan did not end until 2012.

The BLM launched several travel management plans last year across the West.

Comments on the Charleston plan will be accepted through March 22, and the BLM will begin route evaluations in April.

Written comments can be sent to or by mail to the Elko District Office, 3900 E Idaho Street, Elko, NV 89801.

Crews combat Montello flooding

ELKO — Water has been rising around the town of Montello in the northeast corner of Nevada, but emergency crews have been working to minimize any flooding in town, Elko County Sheriff Aitor Narvaiza said Thursday.

“The water level has come up due to the runoff,” he said. “It started a couple days ago. The water level came up to the town, and there was a lot of water in town.”

The sheriff said people with the Nevada Department of Transportation and the Nevada Division of Forestry have been helping get sandbags where needed and have been cleaning out culverts.

“The water levels are still continuing to rise pretty rapidly, but with the culverts dug out, the water’s flowing through them more steadily,” Narvaiza said.

Above-normal temperatures this week have increased the risk of minor flooding across northeastern Nevada, according to the National Weather Service. Rising creeks and minor overland flooding are possible as snow continues to melt.

Elko has received more than three times the normal amount of precipitation for February.

Warm temperatures in February 2017 melted snow in low-lying areas, resulting in extensive flooding in Montello and along the Humboldt River in Elko.

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Opponents, legislators raise questions that bills could enable Las Vegas pipeline, depart from Western water law

An Assembly committee heard two water bills Wednesday amid criticism from a varied group of water users who worry that the legislation could undermine the historic application of Western water law and enable large-scale projects, including the controversial Las Vegas pipeline.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority, which is pushing the project, testified neutral on the bill.

The legislative package was proposed at the end of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s administration by then-state engineer Jason King. In an interview with The Nevada Independent, King argued that the bills would bring more flexibility to Nevada water law. The legislation, he said, would help the state better manage water claims and resolve conflicts between users.

Tim Wilson, the acting state engineer who took over when King retired in January, said that the bills, taken together, would bring “needed consistency and clarity” to Nevada water law.

“These bills are the division’s best efforts to address real challenges and issues that the division grapples with regularly in all parts of the state,” Wilson said in his opening testimony.

But opponents cast the bills as a giveaway to big developers and water users with a lower priority to water. A motley coalition of irrigators, environmentalists, tribes and rural officials directed much of their ire toward Assembly Bill 30, which would codify the state engineer’s ability to approve complex mitigation plans, known as 3M plans, in resolving conflicts between water users. Several critics tied the legislation to the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s proposed project to pump water from Eastern Nevada to Las Vegas, a plan that uses 3M for mitigation.

Opponents included the Great Basin Water Network, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Nevada Farm Bureau, the Confederated Tribes of Goshute, the Central Nevada Regional Water Authority, the Humboldt River Basin Water Authority, the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy. Several legislators also expressed some concerns about the bill.

Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod, who represents Las Vegas, went so far as to ask Wilson if the water authority had any role in crafting the bill.

“Quite bluntly, absolutely not,” Wilson said. “They did not offer us any language.”

Assemblywoman Sarah Peters, an environmental consultant who represents Reno, said that she had “concerns” that the bill did not adequately address environmental concerns.

Others worried it would give the state engineer too much authority.

Minority Leader Jim Wheeler worried the bill would let the state engineer “have unlimited power to give water and take water away from someone regardless of right in the end. I’m not saying you would do that. What I’m saying is this particular bill does give you that power.”

Despite having working on a 3M bill in 2017, the water authority testified neutral. The water authority’s lobbyist, Andy Belanger, said the water authority’s focus this year is on completing a worst-case-scenario pump station at Lake Mead, a Westwide drought plan for the Colorado River and conservation. But he said that the Legislature should take action on water law in the future to avoid litigation, as costs for defending lawsuits has increased for the state.

“We can’t support the bill in its current form,” Belanger said. “We don’t oppose the bill in its current form. But we do believe that if the Legislature does not act, at some point in the future you are going to spend a lot more money in the courts than you are today.”

Under Western water law, those with the oldest claims to water — senior rights holders — have the first opportunity to use water in times of scarcity. Any water users with later claims — those with junior rights — are the first to get their water curtailed off if there’s not enough to go around.

The tension between the two groups is a factor in most conflicts over water in Nevada and across the West. When water users apply for permission to pump groundwater, a user with senior rights can protest the application if there is a concern that issuing a permit would pose a conflict. For instance, if a mine applied to pump groundwater but there was a possibility it could draw down a spring, a rancher with senior rights to the spring could protest the application.

If there is a conflict, Nevada statutes are typically read as prohibiting the state engineer from approving an application, even if there is water available to appropriate from an aquifer. But Nevada’s top water regulator has, in many cases, allowed for applications to proceed with mitigation. In one case, the state has approved a 3M plan for mining project in Kobeh Valley.

Under a 3M plan, which stands for monitoring, management and mitigation, a water user could resolve a conflict by providing substitute water.

Although current statutes mention 3M plans, there remains uncertainty about the extent to which they can be used. In the case of the rancher’s spring, the water user could pump or truck in replacement water to ensure that the spring remained filled with water. The Supreme Court, in the Kobeh Valley case, did not say whether 3M plans were permissible but questioned the reliability of the concept — if pipes freeze in the winter — and the quality of replacement water.

Despite the criticism, the state said the legislation, codifying the use of 3M plans to resolve disputes between water users, was necessary to clear up conflicting language in the state’s water statutes.

“Without it, we are left with two conflicting directions in our statute,” said Brad Crowell, who leads the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “No matter which one we follow, we end up in court over our decision. I personally don’t think we should be abdicating the decisions on water policy to the court… As the law stands now, there is the inevitability of litigation.”

Wilson also rejected the rhetoric “villainizing” the bills for enabling large-scale water projects and favoring developers who can afford to pay for mitigation.

“While the terms mitigation and 3M plans have been somewhat villainized due to conflict over a particular groundwater development project, the fact is that current law authorizes the state engineer to resolve a conflict based on the principle that any impacted senior water rights holders are made whole and the overall public interest remains balanced,” he said.

The issue of senior rights is at the heart of the second bill that the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining heard Wednesday evening. Assembly Bill 51 would give state regulators the authority to adopt regulations and levy some special assessments to “conjunctively” manage rivers and aquifers as a connected resource.

Although the law used to treat each supply as separate, the best science shows that diversions from streams affect groundwater levels and vice versa. Despite some progress in the last session, the state engineer argued the law is still vague on how regulators should enact “conjunctive management” plans.

AB 51 would help fix that problem, state regulators said. It could also be used by state officials to finalize regulations to mitigate the impacts of groundwater pumping near the Humboldt River. Pumping has led to a loss in streamflow that has, in turn, affected water deliveries to senior users at the end of the river.

But the proposed fix also drew opposition from several groups, including the Nevada Farm Bureau, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Douglas County, Storey County and the Pershing County Water Conservation District (PCWCD), which represents farmers with rights going back to the 1860s.

Although many opponents support “conjunctive management” in theory, they feared that the legislation, as written, would give the state engineer more power and could strip away the ability of senior rights holders to exercise their claims. They worry mitigation programs, funded through a potential special assessment, could leave senior rights holders with money but no water.

“PCWCD constituents don’t want money, they want their water,” said Bennie Hodges, who runs the Pershing County district, which sued the regulators in 2015 to halt groundwater pumping.

Prior to the hearings, Crowell said the state faced three realities as it related to water. Crowell, who also worked for Sandoval, said because Nevada is the most arid state, the fastest-growing state and threatened by climate change, lawmakers should take a “proactive approach.”

“Climate change is real,” he said. “The impacts are being felt here in Nevada. And it is our responsibility to take the impacts into account in managing Nevada’s water resources.”