Was 2015 half empty or half full, from Elko’s perspective? Either way you look at it, the year brought plenty of surprises to our newspaper’s headlines.
If you measure Elko’s prosperity by the gold price, we ended the year at about a $100 deficit. Not good, but really not that bad considering most mines in the region are still profitable. Investors are still purchasing mines, exploration continues, and an entire new region in eastern Elko County is ramping up for production.
The mixed-bag economy included a burst of construction activity on new motels and apartment complexes, as well as public projects such as the Elko Conference Center. Among the surprises: The school district saw a significant increase in enrollment. One of the first items of business for 2016 will be figuring out where to build another elementary school.
Another story of great consequence to the region’s economy came to a head in September, when the Interior Department decided the sage grouse does not warrant being listed under the Endangered Species Act. Then, surprise! The agency slapped down land-use restrictions that could be just as devastating as a listing for mining and ranching, as well as outdoor recreation. Elko County’s response was swift, and its lawsuit drew backing from Attorney General Adam Laxalt. Readers will be looking for the next development in this conflict as we head into 2016.
Other headlines that took surprising twists and turns over the course of the year included the Stephanie Gonzales murder case. After spending a year in custody in Mexico, suspect Eduardo Estrada-Puentes was extradited to the U.S. and booked into Elko County Jail in October. The 4-year-old case will surely generate more attention in the year to come as it proceeds through the court system.
Two stories involving sexual identity made our top-story list. One was a request from Rural America Pride to fly an LGBT flag at Elko City Hall, a month after the group held its first local parade in June. City council members voted no, after Assemblyman John Ellison said granting the request would open a “Pandora’s Box.”
The school board also said no to a transgender student’s request to use restrooms opposite her biological sex. The ACLU was outraged, but has yet to take any actions in response to the board’s decision.
Another surprising development was the closure of the Horseshoe Club, which had its business license revoked in May, then was denied a sexually oriented business license in December after new owners applied. The former strip club is located right in the middle of downtown Elko’s main street, and had a reputation as a rowdy bar.
And speaking of downtown Elko, business owners had been pushing for the Horseshoe Club’s closure at the same time the City’s Redevelopment Agency was working up plans for revitalizing the district. Alas, the expensive plan was rejected and sent back for modifications. Meanwhile, a shakeup on the advisory board included the unexpected departure of two members plus the City Planner. We hope 2016 brings more positive headlines about Elko’s core business district.
We also hope the New Year brings a safer environment to northern Nevada gold mines. Just as we were completing our wrap-up of the mining year in review, a fourth fatality was reported at Cortez Hills. The increase in mine deaths got the attention of the Mine Safety and Health Administration earlier in the year.
More details about all of the above stories are available in our print and online editions this week as we say farewell to 2015.