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July 14, 2004


Amargosa airport upgrade approved


Three weeks ago came the report that Nye County was awarding the various towns within its jurisdiction substantial grants for downtown improvements, beautification and urban renewal projects.

At about the same time, the commissioners rejected the idea of taking over the vacated lease from the Bureau of Land Management for the old Jackass Aeropark in Amargosa Valley, saying the substantial costs of repairs and upgrades and doubtful Federal Aviation Administration approval made the project cost-prohibitive.

Now the idea for the aeropark - named for Jackass Flats, where wild jackasses once gathered to graze north of Lathrop Wells on the Nevada Test Site - has been revived, joined with Amargosa Valley's $175,000 allotment of county funding for downtown redevelopment.

The town board is looking to breathe new life into the project with the funding. It hopes to pair up the "gift horse" money with the timeworn Jackass aeropark to create something more viable than a sterile mule - the result almost always produced in breeding the two animals.

"We realize we have everything working against us," said Commissioner Joni Eastley, whose District II the aeropark is in. But the Amargosa Valley Town Advisory Board wanted to use the "downtown" revitalization money to pursue and fix up its airport, she said.

"That was one of the original downtowns considered," Eastley said of the broad valley. "Amargosa Valley has a sense of vision for their area."

The idea is intriguing in that no one seems quite sure where downtown Amargosa Valley is. But the aeropark, if it becomes a going concern, may settle the question once and for all.

"Amargosa Valley has about five or six different places that could be called downtown," said Jan Cameron, chairwoman of the Amargosa Valley Advisory Board. According to Cameron, Lathrop's Well (the original name) is the commonly assumed town center, at the junction of Nevada 95 and Highway 373. Until recently this was the place on the official Nevada highway map (now known as Lathrop Wells).

But others also contend for the "metro" distinction. They are:

• On the 17-mile stretch of Highway 373, between Lathrop Wells and Death Valley Junction in the heart of the Amargosa Valley at the 6-to 8-mile marker, where the town's post office, a mom and pop grocery, a restaurant, a motel and some apartments are located.

• At the 4-mile marker on Amargosa Farm Road, where the cemetery, a town clinic, the library, a park and a school (but no businesses) are located. The current state highway map shows this spot as the town's location.

• At the main residential area five more miles west on Farm Road, where two churches, a mom and pop grocery, restaurants and other small businesses are to be found.

• At the 11-mile marker on Amargosa Farm Road off Highway 373.

Cameron said Amargosa Valley is the biggest community in Nye County, geographically speaking. In terms of population it ranks third, about 28,000 behind Pahrump and perhaps as many as 1,000 residents behind Tonopah.

The Jackass Aeropark has one hangar, a couple of trailers for the manager's residence and office and an estimated 6,500-to 7,000-foot runway that needs repair. The old hangar would have to be removed and possibly new ones built.

It is the only airport in Nye County capable of taking jets, Cameron said, although only prop planes have recently been using the airport. A 737 jumbo jet has on at least on occasion landed there, she said.

"We have a very active flying club here," she said. But high turnover of past airport managers has limited the viability of the aeropark in a region with several other small airports nearby.

Former Pahrump Town Board member Charlie Gronda spoke in favor of the airport at the commission meeting. "I think you could start a project like this without it costing the county a lot of money," he said.

The county estimates the costs at $220,000 to bring the aeropark up to FAA standards and to develop a master plan for the facility. Amargosa Valley's $175,000 would cover most of that amount. Cameron said that getting the minimum number of 10 planes the FAA requires to be hangared on-site would not present a problem. "I think we'll be able to meet the FAA criteria," she said.

"This is such a significant thing for the community to maintain, especially with Yucca Mountain coming in," she said. "I expect to see some further growth out there with businesses if Yucca Mountain proceeds."

The county's Amargosa Valley Science and Technology Park recently broke ground across from Lathrop Wells near the entrance to the proposed Yucca Mountain Repository for high-level nuclear waste. It is projected to provide offices for Department of Energy contractors and their subs.

Commissioner Eastley said the aeropark would be revisited at a future county commission meeting. She indicated that deciding on the size of the airport's footprint would be critical in the county's plans.

Commissioner Candice Trummell last week commented lightheartedly in the aeropark discussion, just after the brothel brouhaha. She said that if brothels continued in existence and the aeropark were revived, tourists wouldn't even mind potential "layovers" in the area.

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