Thursday, June 16, 2011

We'll Pave Paradise... For What?

I'm very blessed to have something awfully special right in my backyard. Want to take a peek?

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This is Pittman Wash, a natural riparian habitat filled with native flora and fauna (especially those lovely birds!), and it's one of only six natural washes left in all of Clark County! So this is truly something to be treasured...

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But unfortunately, the City of Henderson has been considering plans to replace much of the "natural landscaping" with concrete. No really, read for yourself!

Henderson's plan to turn a section of the Pittman Wash into a concrete flood channel has raised the concern of the volunteer group that maintains the trails and natural areas within the wash.

Henderson Public Works officials and project contractors recently met with the group, Project GREEN: Friends of the Pittman Wash, armed with maps, information, a conciliatory tone and an olive branch, but the conservation group remained skeptical and confused. [...]

The Regional Flood Control District included the $5.1 million project in its 2008 Master Plan Update at the request of the city's Public Works Department, and funded it last month.

However, the project appears to fly in the face of previous city master plans, feasibility studies and federal and state funding agreements that all dictate the entire wash is to be restored and revegetated to its natural state.

While the Friends are charged with maintaining all of the wash in its natural condition, the city exercises its control of the wash from Arroyo Grande to Pecos Road under three departments - Public Works for flood control, Utility Services for maintenance of an in-the-wash sewer line and its towering manholes, and Parks and Recreation for recreational and trails purposes.

Here's the deal. City engineers claim that concretizing at least a portion of the wash will help solve erosion problems, but concrete will actually INCREASE the velocity of the water (since replacing soil and plants with just concrete will allow the water to travel more quickly), leading to further erosion down the wash! Concretizing the wash really seems to make no sense, especially considering it conflicts with the city's intended mission to preserve Pittman Wash in its natural state. In fact, a possible easier solution to erosion may simply be to plant more native vegetation to help control water flow.

In addition, this proposed project may cause much more trouble for Henderson than it seems to be worth.

Under a five-phase proposal that the city's Public Works Department made to the Nevada Division of State Lands, the Friends were awarded nearly $300,000 of conservation bond money in December 2004 for projects in areas including the area of the wash where the concrete channel would be built.

The grant money came out of the $200 million so-called Question 1 bond funds that voters approved statewide in 2000.

Also, the Friends indirectly received $11.4 million in Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act funds in February 2006 for the Arroyo Grande and Pittman Urban Watershed Recreational Trails, Phase II project.

Both applications stressed that the goal of the Friends project is " restore Pittman Wash to a natural habitat and construct trails for public use and benefit."

The city could be liable for repayment of the $11.4 million, since the Department of Interior financial agreement states, "This Agreement is subject to enforcement if the recipient fails to comply with any terms of this Agreement and may be terminated in whole or in part."

Now Clark County may be on the hook for this initial $5.1 million project to concretize the channel between Arroyo Grande and the railroad crossing (and potentially start a process of concretizing more and more stretches of the wash), but Henderson may end up being liable for far more money if the city is found in violation of the agreement it made with the state to preserve Pittman Wash as natural open space.

Perhaps this is now starting to get the city council's attention. Apparently at the most recent Henderson City Council meeting this week, Mayor Andy Hafen suggested more public hearings... And even a walk with the city council along the Pittman Wash Trail! Our city council now seems to be willing to ask more questions on the necessity of this project and learn why we the residents of Green Valley are worried about losing one of the last open stretches of nature left in not just Henderson, but really all of Greater Las Vegas.

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When I was at the Pittman Wash trailhead at Arroyo Grande yesterday morning, I was surrounded by birds. They were chirping away, and they were clearly enjoying the natural springs. But if this portion of the wash is concretized as proposed, the springs vanish and the birds will likely become homeless (or at least be forced to move elsewhere).

There were also plenty of walkers, runners, and bikers enjoying the trail. We like to use this trail precisely because of the scenery, and because of the natural cooling from the vegetation. But when vegetation is removed and replaced with concrete, the "natural cooling mechanism" from the plants is removed. And instead of all that pretty scenery, we instead have a prime target for graffiti.

Los Angeles realized this, and that's why LA has slowly been replacing much of the old concrete channel that was The LA River with natural soil and vegetation. They recognized that instead of being a constant graffiti target and neighborhood liability, it can become a community asset just by restoring the river to its original natural setting.

That's why I'm perplexed by this proposal to concretize Pittman Wash. Why would we want to do precisely what LA, New York, and other cities are moving AWAY from? Shouldn't we preserve something we can be proud of? Hopefully, the Henderson City Council will recognize this as they engage in more dialogue with the community.

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