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November 18, 2017

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Obama considering another national monument in Nevada

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Aerial view of Michael Heizer’s “City” under construction in Nevada.

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Congressman Cresent Hardy, NV-4.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is seriously considering creating another national monument in Nevada — and the congressman whose district it would sit in is not happy about it.

"I am appalled and deeply concerned," Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy said in a statement published on his website Thursday.

Hardy's office obtained a draft of the president's proclamation to set aside more than 700,000 acres of land in Lincoln and Nye counties for protection.

The six-page draft is being circulated among federal agencies for input before Obama makes a decision on whether to prohibit development and energy exploration there.

"The land tells the story of a rich cultural tradition," it reads. "From the earliest human inhabitants 13,000 years ago, to miners and ranchers in the past century and a half, to a modern artist in recent decades, the area's residents have created and left behind noble legacies."

The modern artist the administration refers to is quirky Michael Heizer, who has spent the past 40 years building one of the world's largest sculptures in the Nevada desert. "City" is a series of sculptures reminiscent of Mayan ruins in Mexico spanning 1 1/2 miles. It's nearly complete, and protecting it and the land around it has been a priority for retiring Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV.

Reid and Las Vegas Democrat Rep. Dina Titus introduced legislation in Congress earlier this year to cordon off "City" and thousands of acres around it from oil and gas development. But that's unlikely to move in a Republican Congress, so Reid has lobbied Obama to use his power under the Antiquities Act to unilaterally create national monuments.

Reid and Titus also hosted a community meeting in February with a high-level Department of Interior official to show support for creating the national monument. Public meetings are a precursor for every one of the 16 national monuments Obama has designated.

Support from members of Congress whose district covers the monument is not. And Hardy is livid.

The entire projected national monument sits in his district, which spans from North Las Vegas through most of central, rural Nevada. Hardy said in the statement he fears that closing off the land would inhibit Nellis Air Force Base from conducting high-profile training flights.

"It seems the president and Senator Harry Reid share an ambivalence toward what we in Nevada know to be true: namely, that closing down this vast area of land for generations to come would adversely impact Nevadans’ ability to choose how we want to grow economically, and it would hamper our military members from sharpening their skills," he said.

But most wilderness protection bills or proclamations have language that allows for military activities, including the national monument Congress created in nearby Tule Springs in 2014 to protect prehistoric fossils.

"Congressman Hardy is getting a little bit ahead of himself," Reid's spokesperson, Kristen Orthman, said in a statement.

The deal is far from done — Obama could change his mind. But it appears this is one fight Hardy is going to lose.

"No area is as uniquely Nevada as is the Basin and Range," Orthman continued. "It deserves protection so our children and grandchildren and the generations of Nevadans to follow can experience one of the most beautiful places on Earth."

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