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Past, present, future all represented in 2018′s top headlines

January 2, 2019

BULLHEAD CITY — The past, present and future all were part of the top headlines in the Tri-state in 2019.

From the past: The regatta returned. From the present: Dot Foods is up and running, Laughlin Ranch Boulevard is open and the Anderson Auto Group Fieldhouse is nearing completion. And in the future: The fight for water rights — and water conservation, development of Bullhead City’s Section 12 and revitalization of Old Bullhead and the future of a second bridge linking Bullhead City and Laughlin look to be top stories to follow in 2019.

The past

Bullhead City government scrapped the Bullhead City River Regatta following the 2016 float over concerns of liability, time and manpower commitment for the city to conduct the event, as well as the amount of negative publicity over the trash, traffic problems and other issues.

But when Marnell Gaming made a proposal in 2017 to take over operation of the event, the city willingly — despite some opposition — sold the rights and intellecual property of the regatta, breathing new life into an event that is highly popular with many and equally as unpopular with many others.

The rebranded Laughlin River Regatta launched in August, with a little more than 10,000 participants. That was well under the cap of 22,000 placed on the event by organizers and fewer than the 15,000 expected.

Anthony Marnell III, CEO of Marnell Gaming, termed the event a success.

“The point was to prove that we could bring the regatta back and run it the right way,” Marnell said. “We did that.”

Marnell said the event “was orderly, well executed and people seemed to enjoy themselves.

“The event can be done right.”

Tim Williams, chairman of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, wouldn’t agree with that assessment.

“Our ultimate goal is to end it,” Williams said as tribal and community members protested the event at the Laughlin Bridge on the morning of the regatta. “That there isn’t another regatta in 2019 or after that.”

FMIT has been the most vocal and united critic of the regatta in recent years. Originally on board to promote and sponsor Bullhead Cityís annual float down the Colorado River, tribal members changed their stance after seeing what the growing event was doing to the Colorado River.

The river holds cultural and traditional significance to the tribe, Williams said. Pipa Aha Macav, from which “Mojave” is derived, means “the people by the river.”

“We’ve been here since time immemorial,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of the tribe and our members for coming together and uniting for this effort.”

Marnell vowed to continue the regatta, adding that a 15,000- to 17,000-participant event would be sustainable.

Williams vowed to continue opposition to it.

“We’re preparing for 2019 right now,” he said without disclosing what those preparations were. “There’s going to be even more (anti-regatta activity) in the future.”

Marnell, though, said he saw the opposition effort as a form of hypcrisy.

“I have a lot of respect for (Williams),” he said. “I have a lot of respect for the tribe. We even offered to clean their land, free of charge, during our river cleanups and they turned us down. Where’s Timothy Williams and the tribe when we’re doing the river cleanups? What has the tribe contributed to cleaning up the river? It’s not really the opposition. It’s the hypocrisy of the opposition.”

As part of the agreement to take over the regatta, Marnell pledged to conduct river cleanups before, during and after the event. Five cleanups — three before it — removed roughly 17 tons of trash and debris from the river and shoreline.

The timing of the regatta proved to be somewhat fortunate. A storm system moved into the Tri-state as the event was winding down. What was termed a microburst caused widespread damage and power outages on both sides of the river with many in Bullhead City and Fort Mohave losing electricity for 12 hours or more.

Several of the Laughlin casinos lost power temporarily while a majority of residences and businesses in Bullhead City were dark for hours.

The present

Dot Foods conducted its grand opening in March — the business already was operating — and ended the year exceeding its employment goal months in advance.

Dot opened its 11th distribution center, chosing Bullhead City thanks in part to incentives from the State of Arizona, Mohave County and Bullhead City.

“We welcome you to this historic day — another milestone in the history of Bullhead City,” said Bullhead City Mayor Tom Brady in his remarks to the crowd of about 200 people attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “We hope that you succeed beyond your wildest expectations and we hope that we can both grow together.”

The ceremony welcomed Dot Foods, the nation’s largest food industry redistributor, to the community and officially opened its $30 million, 190,242-square-foot building.

“This is a great day for all of Bullhead City and Mohave County,” said Mohave County Sup. Hildy Angius. “We’ve been waiting and watching it go up and check it out, it is unbelievable. It’s a work of technology that we would not ordinarily get to see and it’s pretty great.”

While Dot Foods’ impact has been immeasurable in terms of employment and tax revenue injected into the community, the company has taken an active role to fit in beyond that.

“Robert and Dorothy Tracy are the founders of our company and they were very supportive of local charities,” said Rocky Vecera, general manager of Dot Foods Arizona, after the company doled out $15,000 to area food banks in May. “They’re from a small town in Illinois and they’ve instilled the importance of charitable contributions to all 12 of their kids. It’s just something near and dear to all our hearts — we’re part of this community and we want to make sure we’re giving back to this community.”

Three developers also gave back to the community with their involvement in the Laughlin Ranch Boulevard extension from the Bullhead Parkway to Highway 95. The roadway opened to traffic in October.

“It’s a really special day for the city,” Bullhead City Manager Toby Cotter told the Daily News. “There’s not many new public roads being built in America right now — that the terminus of the new road is the beaches on the Colorado River is a special thing for Bullhead City.”

The $4.5 million roadway is the result of a public-private partnership between developers and the city. Three developers — Laurin Hendrix, Lansing Companies from California and Solid State Parkway from Amsterdam — came together and paid for 75 percent of the road, Laughlin Ranch developer David Lords said. The city wanted to include a connection of the road to reach the new beaches at Section 12 south of Bullhead Community Park and paid about $1 million.

“Those developers, those owners, those are the people that paid the money,” Lords said. “They don’t get much credit, but if it wasn’t for them saying theyíd sign with the city, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Don Laughlin, perhaps the most important man in the development of the area, toured the new boulvard with his grandson, Matt, and Lords in a 1931 Model A Ford.

“(The Model A) is the same age as me, but it’s in much better condition,” said Don Laughlin. “The new road is going to ease a lot of traffic for sure. I’ve been watching that area thinking there should be a road there for the last 53 years, so today is a day of big reward — it’s a great thing.”

Many people also see the Anderson Auto Group Fieldhouse as a great thing for the area.

The facility, funded through a voter-apporved bond issue with the Colorado River Union High School District, is scheduled to open in the spring. Construction at the site north of the Mohave Crossroads shopping center is seen by many as a catalyst to development in the area. It also figures heavily in the city’s sports tourism plans.

Opposition to the facily — before and after the election — and a lack of progress finding a facility manager ultimately contributed to the removal of Supt. Riley Frei from the district.

Frei was moved from superintendent of the district to a position overseeing construction of the fieldhouse this fall and resigned after the demotion.

Gary Boren, a veteran of stadium and arena management, was hired in September as the general manager of the fieldhouse, in charge of day-to-day and longterm operations that likely will include public and private events in addition to the intended use as home for Mohave High and River Valley high school events and classes.

The future

Just when it looked like the project to build a second bridge over the Colorado River between Bullhead City and Laughlin was a go, the Laughlin Town Advisory Board voted to express opposition to the $56.3 million project and asked Clark County and the Regional Transportation Comission of Southern Nevada to reallocate its share of the funding — about $33.5 million — to other projects that would be of greater benefit to Laughlin residents.

LTAB members cited the overall rising cost, that too much money was being spent on it by Nevada entities, and that placement wasn’t going to adequately benefit Laughlin’s interests.

“Unfortunately, they took a different direction,” said City Manager Toby Cotter about the decision made by Laughlin officials.

Bullhead City already had allocated $3.1 million for its part of the project — completing the extension of the Parkway from Highway 95 to the river — but voted not to award bids, instead focusing on construction of access roads to the fieldhouse.

“This is a very large hiccup,” Mayor Tom Brady said. “But an isolated one.”

The city is awaiting action on two pieces of federal legislation that would approve a land swap between the city and the government concerning ownership of Section 12 — riverfront property immediately south of Bullhead Community Park.

Both Sen. Jon Kyl and Rep. Paul Gosar have introduced legislation that would permit the city to acquire 345.2 acres owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in exchange for property in the Black Mountains that was donated by Don Laughlin to the city in 2015.

Section 12 is seen as a key parcel in further development of public parks in Bullhead City, with an expansion of Community Park likely to contain a marina, more sports fields and other amenities. The city currently leases much of the riverfront property from the BOR and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Water issues also will be decided in the future. The city proposed, then withdrew, a voter initiative to authorize takeover of local EPCOR Arizona assets in response to an ongoing rate increase and consolidation effort ordered by the Arizona Corporation Commission. Instead, the city is trying to work with EPCOR to remove the local water utility from the consolidation plan proposed for all of EPCOR’s Arizona holdings. That issue is unresolved and city officials have said that they could resume pursuit of a local EPCOR takeover — if approved by voters whenever it appears on the ballot.

And the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District, after an aborted attempt by outside entities to obtain water rights within Mohave County, is part of a regional discussion — and planning process — concerning management of water rights in the future if a water emergency is declared.

Continuing declines of water held in Lake Powell and Lake Mead could trigger a water emergency that would affect several states and millions of people.

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