PAHRUMP, Nev. -- A giant pit in Pahrump is causing racial tensions, fears of toxic waste, anonymous fliers and a $10,000 bounty.
The Nye County community is fighting over whether to allow a local businessman to set up a landfill outside of town.
Federal officials are concerned about the level of racial division that appears to be happening against the Hispanic business owner.
Rene Morales owns the pit, a gaping former gravel quarry.
Zoned heavy industrial, he could put in a brothel or a cemetery.
Morales, though, decided on option No. 3: a construction waste landfill.
"Wood, debris, concrete debris, asphalt, carpet, all the materials you normally use to build a house," Morales said. "That's construction and demolition debris. That's it. Not household waste, not toxic waste, none of that stuff."
Try telling that to Pahrump residents.
"We are desperate for jobs, but not at the expense of our neighborhoods," Pahrump resident Adam Downer said, pounding his fists. "Not at the expense of this town!"
Added Pahrump resident Jane Schmidt, "The request you have before you is absurd, to consider a landfill regardless of what is going into it and is going literally into people's backyards."
The closest home is a mile away. Residents actually live closer to a garbage dump near the center of town.
At a recent Nye County Commission hearing, many residents carried a flier portraying Morales as a "Soprano's"-style mobster.
"I'm no drug dealer," Morales said. "I'm not part of the Sopranos like the fliers stated. I'm just a regular man with a business and a family who lived in Pahrump for 21 years and work hard and create jobs and pay a lot of taxes."
The commission quickly told landfill opponents they sided with them even before public comment ended and voted unanimously to deny Morales permission to begin his project.
The U.S. Commerce Department's Minority Business Director Leonard Hamilton said he heard racial insults from the crowd targeting Morales.
"'That Mexican is going to ruin the entire community, the entire city,'" Hamilton said he overheard. "I was listening. I didn't want to say anything since it wasn't my place. There appears to be a true racial component to the decision that was made.
"I have to make a report. I have to file a report with our national office."
In 2006, Pahrump gained national attention with the passage of a short-lived English-only law.
"That was very painful for the Latino community," Morales said.
Nye County commissioners said that filling the pit with construction debris would "not fit the harmonious nature of the neighborhood."
"I have nothing personal against Mr. Morales," Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said. "He has worked for this county. He's gotten almost a million dollars in contracts with this county. So to go anywhere near that we're being not in favor of minorities, really offends me."
However, a noisy 35 year-long gravel digging operation at the pit was harmonious for the neighborhood.
The county's decision came even after Morales offered to donate five percent of his profits to local schools and parks.
"As a leader, my people will suffer," Morales said. "As you can see, all these guys, they're waiting for a job. They believe in me. I believe in them. No, I'm not giving up."
Morales plans to reapply for his landfill permit.
He is now offering a $10,000 reward for the identity of the person spreading those anonymous and controversial fliers.
Monday, September 1 2014 6:06 PM EDT2014-09-01 22:06:07 GMT
Some medical providers say they often deal with Hispanic patients who are afraid to seek medical care. In some cases, it has to do with a language barrier, but in most cases, it is fear among undocumented immigrants that they could end up being deported. More>>
Some medical providers say they often deal with Hispanic patients who are afraid to seek medical care. It's hoped the opening of a new medical clinic will change that.
Monday, September 1 2014 5:58 PM EDT2014-09-01 21:58:50 GMT
The three-day holiday weekend ended with visitors crowding the airport and freeways as they made their way back home. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Association, around 313,000 people visited Las Vegas over the Labor Day weekend. More>>
The three-day holiday weekend ended with visitors crowding the airport and freeways as they made their way back home.
Monday, September 1 2014 5:51 PM EDT2014-09-01 21:51:43 GMT
Tens of thousands of people bid farewell to summer by enjoying Lake Mead for Labor Day weekend. While there were a few minor rescues, DUI's and boating incidents, the vast majority of people had some fun in the sun. More>>
Tens of thousands of people bid farewell to summer by enjoying Lake Mead for Labor Day weekend. While there were a few minor rescues, DUI's and boating incidents, the vast majority of people had some fun in the sun.