Gene Jones
Department of Community Development
Reno, Nevada

Gene Jones, the award winner in the local government category, has been a civil engineer with the city of Reno for eight years. In his role as a project manager in the department of community development, Jones used both his technical and management skills to develop a wetlands habitat conservation program for the Rosewood Lakes Municipal Golf Course in Reno.

From 1985 to 1989, Gene worked to obtain local, state, and federal approval for a municipal golf course project in the Steamboat Creek Floodway. At the start of the project, in 1985, the issue of wetlands impacts was a newcomer to the broad array of concerns involved in golf course construction.

Reno is located in a desert climate, and until recently there was little public awareness of local wetlands resources. Furthermore, wetlands in Nevada have suffered because rights to most of the water in the area have already been deeded for municipal or industrial use. The only wetlands that do exist in the region result from the small amounts of unused water or the water returned to the watershed after use. In addition, the city began the project at the time that the Army Corps of Engineers was beginning to enforce the Clean Water Act’s §404 (b)(1)guidelines, requiring permits to follow a sequencing process for avoidance, minimization, and mitigation of wetlands losses.

Jones was instrumental in getting the city to accept the requirements of the §404 (b)(1) guidelines. He worked with other members of his department, senior management, and the city planning commission to inform them of the Corps regulatory program, and the objectives of the Clean Water Act. Although Jones met with resistance to the use of alternative engineering practices, he persisted in explaining how, with various design modifications, community concerns could be satisfied while saving money. As a result, the course uses an alternative fairway to avoid and minimize construction impacts to wetlands. The city’s joint venture partner, Dermody Properties, also avoided wetlands impacts by moving all planned housing development away from wetlands areas. In addition, Dermody Properties purchased permanent water rights for wetlands mitigation and conservation. Unavoidable impacts to wetlands were mitigated through the conservation of existing wetlands and the restoration of former wetlands left dry by historical water diversions for agriculture.

Jones’ efforts have resulted in a wetlands management area in the city that consists of 155 acres of wetlands and nearly 25 acres of open aquatic habitat. The wetland and aquatic habitats built in association with the city’s municipal golf course serve to attract a diverse assemblage of migratory waterfowl and raptors.

What’s unique about Jones’ accomplishments is that the community and city government have developed a significant appreciation for how wetlands habitats can be conserved while allowing development to occur in a watershed that has limited available water. Golfers and hikers frequently comment about how impressive it is to see so much wildlife in the wetlands areas; housing developers have designed homes to overlook the wetlands area; and public demand for watershed planning that includes wetland conservation has become common. Federal and state agencies use Jones’ project as a prime example in Nevada of how the wetlands permitting process can work to satisfy development needs. In addition, the city has adopted a wetlands planning ordinance to further the conservation and restoration of the city’s wetlands. As a result of Jones’ foresight and leadership, the city has recognized wetlands as a key element of Reno’s historical development and is developing land-use plans that will seek to conserve and restore wetlands.

— Terry Huffman, Huffman and Associates, San Francisco, CA