LAS VEGAS (AP) — Two Republican congressmen are urging the Obama administration to expedite approval of an off-road race through Nevada's newest national monument — a 643-mile competition that is opposed by environmentalists and still hasn't received the necessary federal permit two weeks before it's supposed to begin.
The 20th annual "Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno Race" is scheduled to start Aug. 19 in Alamo, about 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas. It finishes the next day near Dayton, just east of Carson City.
This year's proposed route has drawn opposition from conservationists because it includes 37 miles of existing dirt road through the Basin and Range National Monument that President Barack Obama designated last summer across 1,100 square miles of southern Nevada.
The dispute is the latest in a series between environmentalists, recreationists, ranchers and other commercial users of federal lands across the West.
Nevada Reps. Mark Amodei and Cresent Hardy said in a letter this week to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that there is no regulatory or scientific reason to deny a special recreation permit for the race that sponsors bill as the longest off-highway vehicle race in the United States. They argue in the letter first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal (http://tinyurl.com/zs5wmvb) that the race could mean up to $40 million in revenue for the rural communities along the route.
Denying the permit despite a favorable environmental assessment "would mean the Bureau of Land Management has abandoned its mandate in favor of appeasing special interests," the congressmen wrote, adding they "feel strongly that this is just another example of why unilateral national monument declarations are harmful, particularly when sufficient local input is not taken into consideration."
Stephen Cutter, statewide spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada, declined comment. "We're taking a look at the comments and have yet to make a decision," said Chris Hanefeld, spokesman for the bureau's office in Ely.
The Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has criticized Bureau of Land Management 's environmental review and accused the agency of effectively rubber-stamping the race before a management plan and other guiding documents have even been written for the monument, about 120 miles north of Las Vegas.
If granted, the permit would require organizers to provide for safety and resource protection, sanitation, post-race cleanup and rehabilitation along the route. The event is expected to draw as many as 5,000 spectators and a field of 330 all-terrain vehicles, including trucks, cars, dune buggies and motorcycles.
Race organizers applied for a special recreation permit in May 2015, but the Bureau of Land Management didn't release the environmental assessment until July 1, and it extended a public comment period through Aug. 3. The National Environmental Policy Act allows the Bureau of Land Management 14 additional days to consider the comments, which means a final decision may not come until two days before the race.
Conservationists said it's part of a ploy to prevent them from filing any legal challenges.
"The agency's consideration of public comments is a fraud, merely a required pretense," Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility's executive director Jeff Ruch told The Associated Press. "In other words, the fix is in."
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com