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Know the West

Bypass bickering

  Fred Dexter of Nevada's Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club agrees that heavy traffic between Phoenix and Las Vegas mandates another bridge over the Colorado River near Hoover Dam.

But Dexter is crusading against the plan the Federal Highway Administration has chosen: a four-lane bridge at Sugarloaf Mountain, just downstream from the dam and within the borders of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Dexter says its price tag, $198 million, is too high, and he thinks the process is moving through without sufficient comment from the public. He wants the FHWA to look at alternatives that won't fragment the park.

Dexter and the Sierra Club support a bypass over the river about 60 miles south of the dam at Laughlin, Nev., which they say would cost only $13 million. The FHWA's project manager, Dave Zanetell, says that estimate is too low. Zanetell says the Laughlin plan likely won't be an official alternative in the FHWA's final EIS because of "costs to the public" that include an extra 23 miles added to the trucking route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Dexter, a former long-distance truck driver, dismisses that concern. "Twenty-three miles is nothing in long-distance truck driving," he says. "It's peanuts."

But while the Sierra Club has the support of Native American groups that consider Sugarloaf Mountain a sacred site, it does not have the support of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Park planner Jim Holland says the Sugarloaf Mountain alternative would utilize the park's already disturbed lands, such as power line corridors, while the Laughlin alternative would infringe on the Newbury Mountains and their wildlife habitat.

Zanetell emphasizes that nothing is certain yet. "We want to let the public tell us," he says, "and see what comes out of the process."

The agency's final EIS is due out before the end of the year. Contact the Southern Nevada Sierra Club at 702/732-7750, P.O. Box 19777, Las Vegas, NV 89132, or the Federal Highway Administration at 303/716-2157, 555 Zang Street, Lakewood, CO 80228.