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Nevada split over MX on eve of decision

Nevada is a state divided by the MX. Commercial interests, particularly in the urban areas like Las Vegas and Reno , have looked favorably on the economic advantages of basing the $30 billion-plus project in their backyard. Speculators have been buying up land in Las Vegas in anticipation of the coming boom.

On the other hand, the state's rural population -- its ranchers and farmers -- and a growing number of its ordinary citizens tend to oppose the massive project because of the potential disruption of their way of life.

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No matter what the details of President Reagan's decision on the controversial missile system (which is expected to be announced today), some Nevadans will be angry, others will be pleased.

A poll conducted last winter by the Behavior Research Center found that 46 percent of the state's population favored siting the advanced missile system in the Great Basin area, which includes western Utah and most of Nevada. But 48 percent opposed it. More recent state surveys have shown the pendulum of popular opinion swinging in opposition to the project as its size and side effects become more apparent. A July poll taken by the Nevada State Journal found that 69 percent of Nevadans now oppose MX, the same percentage that favored it two years ago.

Despite recent White House claims of being in close consultation with Nevada Gov. Robert List and Sen. Paul Laxalt (R) of Nevada, Governor List remains "firmly opposed to the MX in any form in Nevada," says his press secretary.

Earlier this year Governor List was leaning toward the MX. But his views changed dramatically following the release of the environmental impact statement.

"It's one of the worst impact statements ever prepared," states Steve Bradhearst who heads Nevada's MX field office.

Already two Utah state senators and a Nevada assemblyman have filed suit against the project. The judge has delayed action on the case until the President makes his decision.

Nevada concerns over the massive missile system run the gamut. If, as is quite likely, the President decides on a reduced system, the impacts to Nevada might be:

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* Less open land. The deployment area would cover 12,000 to 15,000 square miles, an area the size of Pennsylvania. Only 60 square miles would be required by the facilities and 122 square miles for roads. The air Force policy is to allow public access to the rest of the area, but state officials are concerned that after the system is built the Pentagon would decide that area-wide security would be necessary and put the whole region off limits.

* Socioeconomic impact. OTA estimates that accommodating the as-many-as-300, 000 people who may move into the area due to the project, could cost local cities, countries, and the states involved as much as $7 billion.

* Less grazing. The Air Force maintains that MX deployment would only reduce grazing in the area by 1 percent. However, the OTA report points out that the sites would be on prime grazing lands and the effects on livestock operations "would be disproportionately great."

* Oil and gas leases. Geologists now believe that the Overthrust Belt, the hottest oil and gas "play" in the continental US, may cut across the Great Basin where the MX would be deployed. A number of companies have oil and gas leases in the area under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. The companies may sue if their activities are restricted.

* Minerals. The area is also the site of considerable mining activity. Deposits of gold, silver, copper, molybdenum, uranium, and a number of other value minerals have been found. Under the 1872 Mining Act patented mining claims are private property even though located on public land.

* Water. Because it is available in such limited quantities, water is a particularly controversial issue. The MX would consume a total of 310,000 to 570,000 acre-feet of water for construction and a 20-year lifetime. The Air Force has proposed taking unclaimed groundwater, but the hydrology of the area is so complex that the results of such an action cannot be predicted.

* Environment. Construction of shelters and roads could disturb as much as 4 ,000 square miles of arid land. To revegetate this land would require more than 3 million acre-feet of land. Not only would this be extremely expensive, but it would greatly increase the water problem. If not done, however, airborne dust levels in the area would be increased 10 to 20 times, to levels that violate the Clean Air Act standards.

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