Weed-choked Minden Gateway may get grooming

Now that the bankrupt Minden Gateway Center has developed into a weed-choked eyesore, town officials are looking for ways to spruce up the 13-acre site at the intersection of highways 88 and 395.

Officials decided at their meeting last week to explore using Douglas County Jail trusties or Nevada prison inmates to clean up the lot at the entrance to Minden which is covered with weeds and construction debris.

Developer Jeffrey Lowden filed for bankruptcy in May.

"I've probably had more commentary and more calls about 'the weed patch' than anything," said Dave Sheets, town board chairman.

"Since it's in bankruptcy, you can't even make a phone call to someone who couldn't do anything if we could call," he said.

Even though the lot is privately owned, town board members said they felt a responsibility to residents to clean up the site.

"We need to do something," said Ross Chichester.

He suggested putting a call out to scout troops and service clubs who might be willing to donate a weekend to weed-pulling and general cleanup.

After discussing the pros and cons of volunteers, liability and other concerns, the board decided to hire a Nevada Division of Forestry prison crew or Douglas County Jail trusties.

Capt. John Milby, who supervises the county jail, said about 10-12 inmates were trusties, but most of them worked in jail operations.

Milby said trusties, who work for free, have to have been sentenced and are screened for flight risk or violent crime.

"They can't be a risk to the community," he said.

If logistics could be worked out, Milby said he would be happy to consider using trusties.

"First and foremost, we're here to help out the county as a whole," he said.

County Manager Michael Brown, who attended the Aug. 5 meeting, said the county would be happy to pitch in.

"We'd be happy to partner with you, through our weed control program, inmates at the jail, anything we can do to help out," Brown said.

Board member John Stephans said the weed removal would not likely be a one-time project.

"The opportune time is now, but we must be prepared to do this every year until this thing (the center) goes. It could be awhile," he said.

Rather than blame the owners, Stephans said it was important to step-up and take care of the problem that reflects negatively on the town.

"Every resident of Minden drives by there and has to put up with it," said town engineer Bruce Scott. "We have a major taxpayer at the Holiday Inn (Express).

Maybe we can help him."

With the exception of the Holiday Inn Express that opened in May, no other tenants are at the site.

Sheets expressed concern that clearing the weeds may create a dust bowl effect.

"There are a variety of things within the project - weeds, cement and debris. If we pull all the weeds, do we create our own dust bowl?" Sheets asked.

Scott said there were several ways to mitigate the dust and control the next crop of weeds.

Minden resident Robert McMillan suggested the town put a lien against the property to recoup costs.

"I know it's an eyesore and something has to be done," McMillan said. "Next year, it will be the same problem. You should put a lien against the property for cost."

The center was originally envisioned to house nearly 200,000 square feet of commercial space, including an anchor grocery store, pharmacy, restaurants, retail and office complexes, plus the hotel.

Lowden has said he wouldn't have pursued the project had he known how poorly the economy would fare. He said he hopes the Chapter 11 restructuring will enable completion of the center.


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