Gerlach Residents Set to Fight Power Plant

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Gerlach residents are pledging to fight a proposed coal-fired power plant, fearing it will pollute the air, drain groundwater and destroy wildlife habitat near the desert community 100 miles north of Reno.

The proposed 1,450 megawatt Granite Fox Power Project would be the largest in Nevada, producing enough electricity to serve nearly 1.5 million households.

Proposed by San Diego-based Sempra Energy, the plant would be built on private land six miles northwest of Gerlach, where Squaw Creek drains into the Smoke Creek Desert, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported Tuesday.

"It's a shame. I'm still in shock," said John Bogard, who would see the power plant from the front window of his home. He has lived near Gerlach since 1972 and owns Planet X Pottery.

Sempra, a Fortune 500 company, chose the site because it is near a major transmission line, a railroad line, and the company believes water is available, spokesman Art Lawson said.

Wind and solar energy also are being explored, he said.

Sempra already has talked with Sierra Pacific Power Co. officials about selling power that would be used within Nevada.

While Lawson stressed the project is in its early stages, the company has written a letter to U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials in Winnemucca explaining the details.

The company anticipates a yearly demand for up to 16,000 acre-feet of water would be available year after year. An acre-foot is the amount needed to cover an acre to a depth of one foot, the amount used by a family of four in a year.

The project would also include a coal waste disposal site and a construction crew work camp. The company said a planned railroad spur, a power line and a water pipe might cross BLM land.

About 800 construction workers would build the project and 100 workers would be needed for operations, the letter said.

Sempra anticipates construction would begin in mid-2006 for an opening in 2009 or 2010.

Lawson said the project could be a new benefactor for Washoe County, producing millions of dollars of non-gambling revenue for the economy and a windfall in property taxes.

Bogard said he and about a dozen ranchers share the Smoke Creek Desert with antelope, bighorn sheep, deer, wild horses and a number of birds.

He wonders whether water used at the plant would dry up small reservoirs and ponds used by wildlife as watering holes.

Just north of the plant site, the Washoe County Commission in January endorsed buying an 18,600-acre preserve that officials called a paradise for sheep, antelope, sage grouse, the endangered pygmy rabbit and an endangered sucker fish found nowhere else.

The property includes Granite Mountain, Buffalo Hills and Wall Canyon, about 100 miles north of Reno.

U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton would have to approve money from the sale of federal land in Clark County to buy the preserve.

With the loss of a pristine area, Bogard said he expects the number of visitors and hunters would drop dramatically.

"It's heartbreaking," he said. "We would just have to move.

"They should put it where the coal is or where the power is used. This is probably one of the last spots on the map where you can breathe the air," he said.

In a letter to Washoe County officials, David Rumsey, who owns the Parker Ranch near Smoke Creek, agreed.

"If this power project goes ahead and is built, the developers will make money, Los Angeles will get the power, and all Gerlach will get is the pollution and environmental degradation."

Last week, the Gerlach-Empire Citizens Advisory Board unanimously voted to oppose an air monitoring station that would be needed to study air quality and wind patterns before the plant could be built.

The Washoe County Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the permit March 2.