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Commission against using dry lake bed for solar development

Boulder City’s Planning Commission is not recommending that a portion of the dry lake bed be used for solar development, as it would be detrimental to the recreational opportunities there.

At a meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 14, the commissioners heard a request from Silver Peak Solar LLC to add 667 acres of the dry lake bed in the Eldorado Valley to the land management plan for solar use. Currently the area is zoned as open lands and used mainly for recreation. The City Council forwarded the request to the commission after its members expressed concern about how it would affect recreation in the area.

Silver Peak is the company in charge of the Techren Solar project, which already has three solar areas in the Eldorado Valley.

Larry Greene, project manager for Silver Peak, said this portion of the dry lake bed would allow the company to connect a new solar project to the current one.

“We’re in a situation right now where we’re working on the project next door … the confluence of projects … make this a really unique opportunity for solar development,” he said.

According to the Planning Commission’s agenda packet, there are approximately 2,349 total acres in the dry lake bed. With Silver Peaks’ request, approximately 840 acres would still be available for recreation.

Both the planning commissioners and attendees expressed concern about the area being used for solar development rather than recreation.

Frank Block, who pilots radio-controlled planes, said he worried about there being enough space for everyone if that portion of the dry lake bed was not available.

“If you only give us that limited space … we’re going to be in conflict with each other,” he said. “It’s a very small space for us.”

Free flighter Larry Schwartz said he was also concerned about limited space.

A free flight model airplane has a wingspan between 18 and 72 inches. It does not have any external control after it is launched. Once it is airborne, it flies until it naturally comes down to the ground.

Schwartz said that since the dry lake bed is flat, it makes it easier to chase down the free flighter model airplanes.

“Our concern is to get this thing so small, it prohibits the use of free flights,” he said.

Schwartz they also used the dry lake bed for competitions.

James Adams said in addition to recreation, the dry lake bed is used artistically in photography, commercials, television shows, film and music videos.

“We have a real resource here,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is upset about the solar. The recreation is for us. I think it would be a shame to cut into that. Once we start, where would it stop?”

Boulder City Chamber of Commerce CEO Jill Rowland-Lagan said the dry lake bed also affects the local economy through the programs and opportunities on it.

“We do have a lot of businesses that would be affected, too, if recreational opportunities go away,” she said.

Another concern expressed during the public hearing was that it could negatively affect the wildlife there.

Planning Commission Chairman Fritz McDonald said the commissioners needed to ask whether they could envision half of the dry lake being a solar plant. If not, then they should move on.

“I personally just don’t think it’s the right development for this piece of land,” said Commissioner Paul Matuska.

Commissioner Nate Lasoff said he had heard from a lot of people who did not want this solar development.

“I was going to have to be swayed a lot to vote for this. … Before we add this in the land management plan, we should look at the other areas (in Eldorado Valley) first.”

Additionally, Commissioner Ernest Biacsi was concerned about the dry lake bed flooding, which Greene said was taken into account with their request. He said he was also concerned about natural occurring asbestos. He questioned if it would be more of an issue if the recreation area was smaller.

“I think the dry lake bed is iconic to Boulder City. … I think the appropriate use for the dry lake bed is recreation, and it should remain that way forever,” said Commissioner Steve Walton.

In a vote of 6 to 1, the commissioners approved a recommendation to not add the 667 acres of land in the dry lake for solar development, as it would be detrimental to the recreational opportunities there as well as there being other areas for potential solar use.

Commissioner Cokie Booth was the only one who voted against it.

“I’m for it … because we begged the city to not make it a class four landfill and make it solar,” she said. “I’m comfortable with having the city decide on it.”

City Planner Susan Danielewicz said the commission’s recommendation will be forwarded to the City Council for the final decision. She said it would most likely be on the agenda for the second council meeting in January.

Contact reporter Celia Shortt Goodyear at cgoodyear@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow her on Twitter @csgoodyear.

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