WOTR: Heard around the West
June 3, 2013
Fabulous Las Vegas
The millions of tourists on the Las Vegas Strip might have a hard time finding any trace of local history, given the proliferation of ever-more-absurd casino hotels mimicking exotic destinations – the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, Egyptian pyramids, and who knows what else. But local officials are promoting a landmark that has been flashing since 1959 (around the time, many imagine, that Las Vegas history began). We're talking about the 25-foot-tall, diamond-and-star-shaped neon sign that proclaims: "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas." This sign was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, probably due to the power of Nevada Sen. Harry Reid as much as to its national importance. Even people who've never been to Las Vegas know the sign because it often symbolizes the city in movies, news reports and YouTube videos. "People come from all over the world and want their picture taken … by the sign," Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak told the Las Vegas Review-Journal recently. "It's oftentimes impossible to get a parking space (near it)." Rest assured: County officials are spending $800,000 to add about 20 new parking spaces near the fabulous sign, along with "button-controlled crosswalks and traffic lights to make pedestrian access easier," the Review-Journal reports. Mark Rumpler, a "tribute artist" who dons a white leather Elvis Presley costume to pose with the sign for tourists' snapshots, is among those happy about the improvements.
Traveling in the clouds
"Marijuana tourists" are expected to converge on Colorado and Washington, hoping to score without fear of handcuffs, because voters in those states legalized recreational pot last November. Arthur Frommer, founder of the famous Frommer's Travel Guides, observes that "already, hotels in Seattle and Denver are reporting numerous requests for reservations by pot supporters planning visits." The ballot measures didn't prohibit purchases by out-of-staters, so now, both state governments are scrambling to craft regulations limiting marijuana tourists to small purchases – maybe an eighth of an ounce, enough for five to 10 joints, reports The Wall Street Journal. A special Colorado "task force" of cops, marijuana businesspeople and legislators recommends that signs be installed in airports and along the state's borders "telling visitors they can't take pot home" to other states, AP reports. Dan Pablon, a Denver legislator, said firmly, "Marijuana purchased in Colorado must stay in Colorado." All this presumes that the Obama administration will hold off enforcing the federal ban on recreational pot.
Effluent for the Affluent
Cruise ships dump their waste products in coastal waters, so voters in the northernmost state passed a 2006 ballot measure banning such dumping – a futile rebellion, it turns out. The law would have become effective in 2015, but the "cruise industry" persuaded Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell and fellow Republicans to override the voters in February. The Legislature passed Parnell's bill, which allows cruise ships to "indefinitely discharge ammonia, a product of human waste, and heavy metals, dissolved from ship plumbing," reports the Anchorage Daily News. "Ammonia can contribute to algae blooms and harm shellfish. Copper, a heavy metal, has been shown to hurt the homing sense of salmon – their ability to smell – in freshwater." State regulators do require cruise ships to treat raw sewage before discharging it, and the industry argues that any pollution in the total discharge streams will be quickly diluted by seawater. But ban supporters – including "fishing groups, environmentalists, Alaska Native organizations and residents of coastal communities" – have their doubts. Democratic Rep. Les Gara warns in the Juneau Empire that the pollution will harm salmon runs. "As an avid fisherman, I don't believe in trading wild fish for cruise ship waste."
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Ray Ring is a senior editor for High Country News based in Bozeman, Montana (hcn.org).