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Development

[The environment ]

Dirty work

Recession or not, new homes are on the horizon here—as soon as the contamination is cleaned up, that is

Even in the midst of an economic downturn, there are always plans in the Las Vegas Valley for new homes. And in Henderson, those plans are not small—or easy.

LandWell, the development subsidiary of Basic Management, Inc., is preparing to develop 2,200 acres of land on the eastern edges of Henderson into a new master-planned community called Cadence, land that will need to be cleaned up of all the contaminants stored there over the years.

BMI has been a presence in Henderson since 1941, beginning by manufacturing magnesium parts for the war effort. Over the years, industrial effluent from other companies that have been located on the site, chiefly titanium manufacturer Timet, has flowed to large evaporating ponds on the Cadence site. (From an aerial view these ponds resemble large pieces of Chiclets chewing gum.) Although the 400 acres of ponds are most in need of environmental remediation, BMI is remediating the entire 2,200-acre site. According to the company’s website, the chief contaminants on the site are metals, radionuclides, pesticides, salts and asbestos.

If it looks like more urban sprawl, BMI President Mark Paris insists that this is an infill project—though even he agrees that infill is usually not this big. (An infill project is when you develop land that’s surrounded by other, already developed land as opposed to developing land at the edge of a city).

Cadence may ultimately contain some 15,000 housing units—many of them centered around a 50-acre park that will feature a great lawn, a small lake and a hill with views out to the Valley. There are also plans for a sports park, offices and a casino-hotel. “The master plan we have developed meets where we think Las Vegas is going,” Paris says.

Getting the land in shape for such an elaborate community is a complicated process. It involves hauling 1.2 million cubic yards of dirt to a nearby landfill—extravagantly called a Corrective Action Management Unit—and dumping it. But to do that, some 750,000 cubic yards of dirt from the landfill has to be dug up to make room. Then these “pits,” which may go as deep as 35 or 40 feet, have to be leveled until their floors are as hard and flat as glass. Next, several layers of protective liners are put down. Then workers will put down two feet of “clean dirt,” and then, finally, they will fill in the pits with contaminated dirt from the Cadence site. The landfill will then be sealed with liner, and the liner pieces will be machine stitched together to make sure they’re airtight.

Although the process looks pretty basic—just a bunch of guys in bulldozers hauling dirt around—regulations require that everything from the flatness of the landfill floors to the pressure on the liner seams has to be scrutinized very carefully. Private consultants oversee the quality control on the site, and the state oversees the private consultants. Soil samples are sent to the state’s Department of Environmental Testing for testing. The excavation started last fall, and the dirt from the site should be moved over by the end of the year.

LandWell will then retest the site before houses get built—so that individual homeowners can be assured their lots are clean. Frankly, the scale of Cadence is a little bit daunting, especially in a time when no one’s buying much of anything in Las Vegas, and also in comparison to the similarly sized Inspirada in southern Henderson, which remains a dispiritingly empty master-planned community. But Paris notes that LandWell doesn’t have any debt, and can afford to be patient. “We can respond to the market.”

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