Liability concerns stall flood barrier on Mt. Charleston

LAS VEGAS -- Rushing water careening down charred earth caused millions of dollars in damage on Mt. Charleston this summer.

The Army Corps of Engineers says the damage might have been avoided, but a flood barrier is delayed by red tape.

The Corps says it was ready to build a 1,700-foot barrier in June, which would have protected homes and roadways.

Federal dollars would have paid for the project. However, Clark County lawyers stopped it, because the project would have only been a temporary fix, and the county would have been liable for any problems after the project was finished.

According to Chief of Engineering Rick Leifield, a local agency has to take ownership after construction.

"Congress requires us to have a local sponsor signed up to participate with us. That is not something optional for us. That is something Congress directs us to do," Leifield said.

On Wednesday night, Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown stood in front of angry residents who live on Mt Charleston at a town hall meeting.

Brown told them even though the project could have been done before the last round of flooding, the county could not sign off on ownership, because it couldn't accept liability if anything went wrong.

The Army Corps of Engineers says other counties around the country have signed contracts that assume liability for completed projects. Brown says he is skeptical.

"We have asked them to show us the contract that a county government has signed off as a sponsor with the 10 requirements they asked us. If we can take that county, and say this is exactly the statutes of Nevada, we would go forward with it," Brown said.

The Army Corps of Engineers says it has four examples of sponsors accepting liability for temporary structures that are meant to protect areas from flooding, including Fargo, North Dakota; McGregor, Iowa; Moorhead, Minnesota, and Santa Clara, New Mexico.

Leifield says he doesn't blame the county for the project stalling.

"You got to work out the differences and, sometimes, that takes time, but I'm convinced that all of us together share the same basic intention to help the people out there," Leifield says.

Even if a deal is worked out between the county and the Corps, it is unlikely anything could be in place in time for another round of storms this year.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service said clearing acres of trees and turning up dirt would likely put homes in more danger now that monsoon season has started.


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