I-Team: Will asbestos stall Henderson’s annexation of Eldorado Valley?

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To annex or not to annex is a question being considered by the City of Henderson as it studies a big plot of land in the Eldorado Valley.

City leaders say they have not formally started the annexation process, even though they’ve taken several steps in that direction.

Now, they have to consider a new issue — asbestos.

“We want to be clear. We have not initiated the annexation process. We are talking with the developers about the potential to annex, but there are a lot of issues related to that,” said Robert Herr, assistant director with Henderson Public Works.

Herr says the idea to annex the Eldorado Valley arose a few years ago when developers and landowners approached the city seeking annexation to build homes and businesses on the sprawling playa.

Herr says the city has been studying the proposal for many months. The city’s negotiating a possible agreement with developers. Herr said Henderson has also hired consultants to study the issues.

The idea of a proposed annexation was pitched to the Henderson City Council who voted unanimously in June to proceed with the plan and news reports proclaimed annexation was moving forward, but Herr said it hasn’t started yet.

“I understand the public might be confused by that, but to annex has very detailed steps on how you go through it as prescribed by Nevada Revised Statutes and we have not initiated that,” Herr said.

So, let’s pretend the city is actually moving forward with a possible annexation. It previously annexed other pieces in the upper part of the same valley and has posted signs about zone changes to allow for housing developments, but along with the issues of how to extend utility lines and public services over or through the looming McCullough Mountains, there’s still the problem of asbestos.

It’s been five years since evidence of naturally occurring asbestos was discovered by UNLV Medical Geologists Brenda Buck and Rod Metcalf.

State health officials forbid them from publishing the findings, which caused a two-year delay. However, when Buck and Metcalf finally went public, it was like a bomb went off because asbestos was confirmed over a large swath of southern Nevada. The Eldorado Valley and a path of an interstate freeway bypass had asbestos.

8 News NOW Reporter George Knapp: “Did it catch everyone by surprise?”
Herr: “Absolutely.”

Asbestos is deadly, and if it gets stirred up, by a massive highway or housing development, the invisible fibers can stay airborne for many days.  Once those fibers are ingested, they never leave the human body.  Plus, the more you ingest it, the greater the chance you put yourself at risk for diseases.

The asbestos discovery stalled the highway project for almost a year. In Henderson, asbestos has received scant attention in public, but behind the scenes, Herr says, it’s been another matter.

Herr says, his office takes this issue very seriously and that they’ve “invested a lot of time trying to understand it.”

When Henderson initiated its own testing by hiring a geotechnical consultant, the samples confirmed asbestos within city limits, but the concentrations were low.

“Primarily, they come up as non-detect, but we had a few that are less than .25 percent, but we also don’t have any that are above .25 percent in the city limits,” according to Herr.

Henderson is learning from officials working on the highway bypass about how to minimize exposure to low levels of natural asbestos. The UNLV team that discovered the deposits appreciates this concern but says the OSHA standards being used to protect highway workers still creates a health risk because there isn’t any level of asbestos that is safe.

“The concentration in the soil — there is just not a linear relationship there so you can have soil with absolutely very low levels,” said Dr. Brenda Buck, UNLV geologist.  “Even where the test is non-detect for asbestos.  When you do activities with that soil, it can generate dust that is hazardous,” Buck continued. “It’s just insane to build these new developments when we don’t even know what the risk will be to the people that live there now.”

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