The Bureau of Land Management, with input from Naval Air Station Fallon, conducted a public meeting June 19 to discuss potential impacts of a proposed expansion of the Navy’s Fallon Range Training Complex.
More than three dozen people attended the late-afternoon meeting at the Fallon Convention Center.
“This allowed our partner agencies a required step for the public to be involved with the withdrawal process,” said NAS Fallon spokesman Zip Upham.
The BLM’s environmental assessment (EA) and a larger one being conducted by the Navy pertains to the military’s request for Congress to withdraw 769,724.34 acres of public lands in Churchill, Lyon, Mineral, Nye and Pershing counties to aid in the expansion of the FRTC.
Upham said since the land has been identified for future withdrawal, the process is disallowing any new mining claims on the land.
Upham said the Navy will also conduct another public meeting in October at the Fallon Convention Center on the proposed range expansion, which was first announced in August 2016.
According to the BLM, the Navy currently has 202,859 acres of public land withdrawal that expires in five years. The Navy sought an addition of almost 670,000 acres of additional public and non-federal land and expansion of Special Use Airspace.
The Navy, though, subsequently amended its original application by proposing an additional 92,482.45 acres of public land for withdrawal, 1,001 acres of non-federally owned lands for withdrawal if they ever entered Federal ownership and cancellation and removal of 2,429.80 acres from the 2016 withdrawal request.
This was the BLM’s only public meeting, which also drew people from surrounding counties affected by the FRTC expansion. Ken Collum, Stillwater field manager for the BLM, said the agency was required to conduct Tuesday’s session, which lasted two hours.
He said the public forum enabled attendees to discuss the impacts that may affect them. He said the meeting’s purpose was not to recommend but to explain the impacts to public land.
After several presentations including an overview on the range modernization from the NAS Fallon commanding officer, Capt. David Halloran, presenters set up small stations to offer specific information on the proposed withdrawal and to show maps of affected areas.
“This was an attempt to clarify issues,” Collum said. “Many people preferred to talk to us face to face.”
Collum said much of the concern centered on grazing and mineral rights. Ultimately, he said the Navy will make its final recommendations, and Congress will either approve or modify the request.
Ranchers expressed concerns about grazing rights and the impact the Navy’s range modernization will have on the value of their property. Others are worried they won’t receive fair compensation.
“I don’t oppose the expansion as long as people are compensated fairly,” said one resident.
Likewise, other people who have mining claims near and south of Fairview Peak are worried they will not be able to develop their claims or will not be compensated at a fair market price. One man said his mining claims sit on large deposits of gold and other metals, but if the Navy is successful in taking over that piece of land, he will not be able to develop the claims; furthermore, he pointed out critical metals needed for the production of Navy jets are located in the affected expansion areas.
Holding a stapled two-page handout, he referenced House Resolution (HR) 520, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act introduced by Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, that would improve and streamline the federal permitting process to promote domestic production of critical minerals.
According to Pentagon studies dating back at least five years, the Chinese have been making some components from minerals mined in that country for U.S. military jets and electronics.
An official from Lyon County, who expressed his opinion at several stations, said he was concerned the expansion west of Fallon will cut off road access in Lyon County to the west side of Lahontan Reservoir. If that happens, he said the Churchill County Sheriff’s Office will have to respond to any emergency calls that normally would’ve gone to Lyon County deputies.
The BLM said additional public comments addressed in the environmental analyses and on the amended withdrawal application will help both the bureau and Navy move forward with the proposal development.
Public input will be taken into consideration as the BLM and the Navy evaluate how the withdrawal could potentially affect other public land uses like mining, geothermal energy development, grazing, and recreation. Public comments will also help inform Congress, officials said.