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July 2, 2015

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Solar project looms over Laughlin incorporation effort

Image

Justin Bowen

Laughlin and Bullhead City, Ariz., as seen in 2011.

Looming over any talk of Laughlin’s future is the almost-utopian vision of it as an energy-independent home to a massive solar equipment manufacturing complex and solar array.

China-based ENN Mojave Energy LLC is planning a $6 billion development on 9,000 acres near Laughlin that it has contracted to purchase from Clark County as soon as the company secures a power-purchase agreement for the energy it hopes to produce.

Officials in Laughlin — about 100 miles south of Las Vegas — have been pushing to incorporate as a city, a proposal Clark County commissioners rejected Tuesday.

In the wake of that vote, town residents saw their hopes fading. If ENN is able to build its “eco city,” Clark County won’t let go of Laughlin because of the potential windfall in property and sales taxes from the development, residents said.

Laughlin officials have big plans. They’re working to carve out some 15,000 acres of federal land for future development, a source told the Sun.

Currently, the city has virtually no acreage available for development.

“I don’t know if we even have an acre of land available,” one Realtor said.

State law allows towns like Laughlin to incorporate as long as it is fiscally feasible. But studies by the state and Laughlin Economic Development Corporation showed the area would fall short of tax revenues by between $2 million and $4 million.

The county vote hasn’t put the issue to rest, however. It now goes back to the Nevada Legislative Commission, which will reconsider it in March. State Sen. Joe Hardy, who represents Laughlin, doubts lawmakers will oppose it.

“If Mesquite, with 1,200 people, can incorporate, I’m confident Laughlin, with 7,500, can, as well,” he said.

He added that Laughlin could cut expenses the county pays for, especially high salaries for firefighters.

But Laughlin isn’t helped in its effort by its riverside casinos having an exemption in state law so that if incorporation happens, the casinos will remain in Clark County’s jurisdiction. That means about $7 million in annual tax revenue from the casinos would remain with the county.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who represents the area, said the casinos fear that, should Laughlin become a city, they would bear the brunt of any tax increases needed to pay for the city’s public services.

Sisolak vowed that if ENN does build its project and if the Laughlin economy eventually generates enough tax revenue to support itself, he would support allowing the area’s residents to vote on incorporation.

“That’s what we promised, and I meant it,” Sisolak said.

One Laughlin resident close to the ENN process said he doesn’t believe commissioners will follow through on that promise.

“They had and will have no intention of ever letting us incorporate,” he said. “None of us are surprised. When you want to leave home, parents very seldom pack your bags for you.”

Hardy understands that attitude. The state senator said you need look no further than the agreement the county struck with ENN to see the county doesn’t want to let go of Laughlin.

The deal says the county will sell land to ENN if they obtain a purchase-power agreement. To Hardy, that’s an example of the county “playing games.” There should have been a way for the county to sell the land but negate the sale if ENN doesn’t come through with its development.

Sisolak called Hardy’s assertion “absolutely untrue.”

“ENN signed onto this agreement — that if they get the purchase-power agreement they get the land. No one is playing games,” he said.

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