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Off-road vehicles’ affect on naturally occurring abestos ignored for too long

Conflicting interests are emerging in Boulder City between the causes of public health/safety and off-road vehicle recreation. A natural environmental hazard, naturally occurring asbestos, occurs widespread in variable concentrations within the rocks, soils and ambient air in the Boulder City-Eldorado Valley area.

I am a concerned resident who lives on the edge of the desert and a registered professional geologist with 32 years of experience in mineral exploration. I believe that without effective mitigation policies, naturally occurring asbestos represents a clear and present threat to public health.

When soil containing naturally occurring asbestos is disturbed, the microscopic fibers are liberated into the air. Once airborne, the fibers are uncontrollable and can travel great distances before settling. Airborne fibers are easily and unknowingly inhaled or ingested. If soil containing naturally occurring asbestos is not disturbed, the asbestos remains relatively harmless.

The Boulder City bypass and other human activities require dust-control mitigation measures regulated under air quality permits. In contrast, off-road vehicle recreation comprises a popular dust-generating activity requiring no dust control. Off-road vehicle traffic creates an extensive network of destabilized roads and denuded areas, which facilitate the liberation and transport of naturally occurring asbestos by the wind.

Both legal and illegal off-road vehicle recreation occurs in the Boulder City area almost daily. Boulder City Municipal Code prohibits the operation of off-road vehicles on undeveloped land within 1,000 feet of any residential area, yet illegal operation occurs on a regular basis.

Off-road vehicle enthusiasts apparently purchase property near the desert with the specific intent of utilizing city streets or their backyards to access the desert. They do this knowing that it is illegal, but they also know the Boulder City Police Department does not effectively enforce the code pertaining to off-road vehicles.

I have interacted with several police officers who have exhibited a lack of understanding of existing off-road vehicle code. The department is effectively granting rights that do not exist to a minority group, at the expense of the rights of others.

If you are an off-road vehicle enthusiast, please understand what you are exposing yourself to while operating in the Boulder City area. Please understand the conditions you create may cause unnecessary exposure to others.

You do not have the right to operate an off-road vehicle on city streets, access the desert from residential areas, or operate on undeveloped land within 1,000 feet of any residential area. Please take your off-road vehicles elsewhere, where you can safely and responsibly enjoy your recreational pursuits. Do not force the responsible residents to be a part of your off-road vehicle experience.

A petition is circulating to allow legalization of off-road vehicle use and promote our city as an off-road vehicle destination. Given the known distribution of naturally occurring asbestos and the prevailing southwesterly winds, promoting off-road vehicle use in Eldorado Valley is not a good idea. The relationship between naturally occurring asbestos liberation and unmitigated dust-generating human activity cannot be ignored.

I believe there is already sufficient information to warrant a moratorium on unmitigated dust-generating activity, particularly in areas known to have high concentrations of naturally occurring asbestos.

I also believe that public education can help promote abstinence from such activities. Public education must be provided by elected and appointed officials who are responsible for health and environmental issues. I encourage concerned residents to contact leaders at the Southern Nevada Health District and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection and ask them for presentations on naturally occurring asbestos. I also encourage concerned residents to contact the City Council and city manager asking for public education, as well as stringent enforcement of existing off-road vehicle code.

I have been writing to express myself about these matters to state and local officials for nearly three years. I have found that public officials have little interest in speaking about naturally occurring asbestos in a public forum.

The failure of local officials to address the issue and the failure of the police department to enforce existing off-road vehicle code should be disturbing to residents.

An important City Council election coming and I believe our city needs new leadership that will openly address these issues. Naturally occurring asbestos is not the end of the world for Boulder City, but it will require strong leadership to implement effective public policies to manage the environmental hazard.

Mark Reischman has been a resident of Boulder City for eight years, and a resident of Nevada for more than 28 years.

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