NORTH AMERICAN REPORTS
One Nation Helping Another
It's no secret that the U.S. needs building materials, led by cement. The commitment this summer by Overland Park, Kan.-based Ash Grove Cement Co. to build its 10th portland cement plant in the U.S. on Nevada land owned by the Moapa Band of the Paiute Indians comes at an opportune time, therefore, for both the U.S. and the Moapa. And though the $300-million project will be within a stone's throw of the U.S. gambling capital, its only connection to casinos might be as a construction supplier. And again, the remoteness of the site only improves the project's chances, in an industry that is plagued by NIMBY concerns and permitting headaches.
The site, about 35 miles (56 km.) northeast of Las Vegas, was chosen primarily for its location adjacent to high-quality limestone reserves, as most cement plant locations are, and will produce 1.5 million tons per year. Charlie Sunderland, Ash Grove chairman and CEO, and Phil Swain, chairman of the Moapa Business Council, announced the agreement-in-principle in July of 2004. Presuming all regulatory and permitting steps unfold without delay, construction is projected to begin in 2006 and be completed in 2008.
In 1873, the Moapa Band of Paiutes were granted approximately 2 million acres (809,400 hectares) by presidential executive order. By 1875, that total had been unceremoniously reduced to 1,000 acres (405 hectares). Legislation enacted by Congress in 1980 restored more than 70,000 acres to the reservation, with the express purpose of facilitating industrial and economic development.
Just as the Moapa concluded water rights negotiations to provide a firm water supply, the reservation in early 2004 was hit with the news that its land was considered part of a non-attainment zone for the eight-hour standard for ozone by the EPA, applied to the entire Las Vegas MSA. The designation put in peril a possible power plant from Calpine Corp., which ended up not being pursued for lack of market. (Calpine in 2001 had completed the first plant to be built on a reservation, the South Point Energy Center on the Fort Mojave reservation in Bullhead City, Ariz.). It also put in peril the Ash Grove project.
However, after pleas made to EPA officials by tribal leaders and their legal counsel, the EPA in September 2004 issued a revision of the ruling that substantially decreased the size of the non-attainment zone, and agreed to exclude Moapa land from the designation by dint of its remoteness and prevailing wind patterns.
Steve Chestnut, of the Seattle-based law firm of Ziontz, Chestnut, Varnell, Berley & Slonim, is principal counsel to the Moapa. He says a lot of work is under way, from alternative plant configurations and transportation options to lease agreements. A draft environmental impact statement and air permit application will be filed in the coming months.
Asked about the advantages conferred on the project by partnering with the Moapa, he says, "It's one-stop shopping. The entire reservation is in single ownership the land, minerals, water so they just deal with one owner in trying to assemble the elements of the project. Because the tribe has so much land, they have more flexibility in working with the tribe to find optimum sites within the area." Federal income tax advantages, accelerated depreciation and employment credits are also part of the picture, but Chestnut points to the more holistic advantage: Tribal support and the reservation location give the project stability and solidity, while helping the community in a multi-faceted way via both tribal government revenue and jobs.
Now Ash Grove is set to build its first new cement plant since 1929. The Moapa like tribes across the continent can identify with such long growth droughts. One project at a time, those tribes are seeking to quench that thirst.
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