The Churchill County Commission has submitted both residents’ and its concerns to address a planned expansion of the Fallon Range Training Complex as part of the scoping process.
Churchill County hired Resource Concepts Inc., to work with the public to obtain their feedback. Jeremy Drew, RCI’s project manager, began working with the county in late October.
The Lahontan Valley News has broken down local concerns included in a letter the county sent to the U.S. Navy.
The Navy conducted seven meetings to accept comments from stakeholders who will be affected by the expansion. An Environment Impact Study will be compiled for the range’s modernization that includes ranges B-16 southwest of Fallon; B-17, the Dixie Valley Training Area, north and south of U.S. Highway 50; and B-20, northeast of Fallon and north of B-17. No plans are proposed for B-19, which is 30 miles south of Fallon and east of U.S. Highway 95.
The public scoping meetings explained what the Navy and Department of Defense are proposing. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy will make a decision in 2020, and if he approves the plan, then it will go to Congress for action.
Capt. David Halloran, commander of Naval Air Station Fallon, said all carrier air wings train at Fallon, and all carrier tactical training is performed over the desert east of Fallon. Additionally, he said the ranges have not been modernized in 20-30 years. The proposed expansion combined with the existing training land will cover more than 800,000 acres.
Alex Stone, EIS program manager for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said all collected comments will help the Navy construct a draft impact statement, which covers such factors as air quality and climate, airborne noise, grazing, land use and recreation, minerals and mining, soils and water resources.
Community, commission input
Commissioners received input from the community as well as from the board in sending a finalized copy of statements and concerns addressing the overall withdrawal and each affected area. While the commissioner’s comments were specific to Churchill County, they encouraged the Navy to solicit input from the Nevada Association of Counties and surrounding counties such as Nye and Pershing. The county opposes the current proposed action as listed:
Definitions for “open” and “closed” areas in regards to public access and multiple use on public lands have not been clearly defined.
The county has concerns regarding impact on future economic development, customs and culture, public access and multiple uses of public lands based on the proposed action.
The county expressed it is unclear how the impacts in the process will be mitigated. The proposed action also conflicts with the county’s adopted Master Plan of 2015.
While Churchill County understands the Navy’s “desire and need” to update their operations, the commissioners expressed a need for the county and Navy to work together to determine the anticipated elevated impact that best aligns itself with the Master Plan.
Among the areas the county identifies as impacts include private property (including water rights) with owners who are not willing sellers; main roads that provide access to federal lands; public lands that are popular recreational areas or popular destinations for hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife viewing; public and private lands that contain threatened, endangered or sensitive species; public and private lands that contain cultural resources, existing mineral claims, geothermal leases, existing infrastructure; airspace modification that may impact waterfowl and shorebirds migrating to and from the Lahontan Valley; and airspace modifications that could limit future development or expansion of the Fallon Municipal Airport.
Churchill County has invested extensive staff time and resources to develop a draft Recreation Master Plan (RMP) in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management’s Carson City District Office.
Concerns for EACH area
The county has provided general concerns that are applicable to every area that is being considered for expansion and has also provided specific concerns for each range.
The county has expressed concerns with Payment in Lieu of Taxes and states the Navy should analyze how the PILT will be affected by any of the proposed alternatives. Other concerns include receiving property tax from private lands within the proposed withdrawal area; restrictions placed on public and private lands may result in economic losses to the county; how the Navy should use local experts with knowledge of the county and its economic situation to describe economic impact; the county is concerned with the effect to endangered, threatened or sensitive species and to the BLM’s recent implementation its Greater Sage-grouse Land Use Plan Amendment including habitat located in Churchill County.
The following are the county’s concerns for each affected area:
The county expressed concern about the proposed closure of Sand Canyon Road, Simpson Road and other exiting unimproved roads and trails that are in the proposed closure to the public. The county stated an alternative may be to release the existing B-16 from withdrawal, drop the proposed expansion area from consideration and relocate the proposed area to that portion of the Cocoon Mountains to the north and east of the exiting Bravo 19 area south of Fallon.
Additionally, the county said the B-16 area is popular for off-highway recreation and two grazing allotments would be affected.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife said here would be minimal impact on wildlife; however, other areas affected by the prosed withdrawal would focus on land and water ownership, water rights and impacts to cultural resources near the Walker River Indian Reservation and the Pony Express Trail.
First and foremost, the county said it is concerned about the proposed closure of Nevada State Route 839, the Earthquake Fault Road and existing unimproved roads and trails in the area. Commissioners said the closure of NSR 839 and the Earthquake Fault Road is important to both residents and visitors. A major re-route would not allow people to visit public lands such as Fairview Peak, the earthquake faults, Bell Flat, Slate Mountain and the eastern slope of the Sand Spring Range.
Various water rights and uses have been identified in the proposed land withdrawal area. The county stated it does not support Sand Spring being included in any withdrawal area. Recreation and off highway recreation would be affected as would two grazing allotments.
Data mining through the Nevada Division of Minerals reflects major conflicts with the proposed withdrawal expansion and mining claims. The county favors an alternative proposal that avoids as many mining claims as possible.
A big impact to the area involves wildlife, especially small and big game. These areas are popular for wildlife viewing and hunting. The county wants the Navy to work closely with NDOW and the Nevada Natural Heritage Project to identify any impacts to threatened, endangered or special status species.
The county also anticipates impacts to cultural resources.
Finally, CC Communications recently obtained authorization for a 30-year lease for a communication tower on Fairview Peak, which includes the access road.
The county had no specific comment regarding the proposed renewal or withdrawal around the B-19 range.
With some level of adjustment, the county is more comfortable with the proposed expansion of B-20 than B-16 and B-17.
An area of concern includes the possible closure of East County and Poleline roads that provide access to the withdrawal area and other federal lands. The county proposes an adjustment to the eastern boundary to avoid any overlap with the exiting East County Road alignment and similar adjustment of Poleline Road.
Regarding land and water ownership, the county would like the Navy to show it will approach private land owners whose property is proposed for purchase and to address how the withdrawal will affect the county’s PILT funding and property tax revenue. The commissioners also suggest an alternative to avoid the withdrawal of any portion of the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge Complex and suggest the Navy avoid dealing with water rights.
B-20 contains a vast area used for recreation, wildlife viewing at Stillwater, hunting and trapping. The county is asking the Navy to avoid any impact to B-17’s recreation.
Three grazing allotments found in Churchill County and within the proposed area would be impacted. Pershing County could see an impact.
NDOM’s data reflects potential conflicts with mining claims, especially at the north end of the Carson Sink. The proposed Nevada iron mine site is also adjacent to the northeast corner of the proposed withdrawal. The county encourages the Navy to work with the NDOM and Nevada iron representatives to identify and disclose potential impacts with existing mineral resources and proposed projects. NDOM data and the BLM reveal a geothermal lease on the eastern portion of the proposed withdrawal area.
NDOW reports minimal impact to big and small game but suggests the Navy work with NDOW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to identify potential impacts.
The county states it is likely the West Humboldt Ranges and margins of the Carson Sink contain a high density of cultural resources, especially those of significant to local tribes.
Dixie Valley Training Area
The county is concerned about the number of maintained and unmaintained roads that provide access to the Dixie Valley area to include the Stillwater and Clan Alpine ranges.
Because of land and water ownership, the Navy needs to address how the withdrawal will affect the county’s PILT funding and property tax revenue; furthermore, the county wants the Navy’s expansion to avoid dealing with water rights and would work with the Navy in the future to avoid impacts to water applications and ensure consistency with any master plan.
The county said it’s unclear how wildlife areas will be affected. The area is known for wildlife watching, hunting and trapping particularly in the Stillwater and Clan Alpine Ranges. The impact would be major for small and large game. The area is also a popular off-highway recreation area. The county advocates for open access within the Dixie Valley Training Area.
The county said seven grazing allotments are within the county and could be impacted by the proposed withdrawal, as would mining claims, particularly around the Winder and Chalk Mountain mining districts. NDOM and BLM report numerous future geothermal developments would also be impacted.
As with several other ranges, Churchill County wants the Navy to work with the appropriate agencies in the areas of cultural resources and waterfowl and shorebird migrations.
The county has concerns with the impact of air traffic to and from the Fallon airport, for future expansion and also with the potential impact on migrating waterfowl to and from the Lahontan Valley and the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge Complex.