Commissioners cite differences with specific proposals of FRTC
Although the U.S. Navy has made a small number of changes to its Fallon Range Training Complex Modernization Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of January, Churchill County commissioners still have concerns with the proposal, which has now advanced to Congress for consideration.
The Navy accepted Alternative 3 as its preferred proposal. The Navy proposes to renew an existing public land withdrawal of 202,859 acres which expires in November 2021 and withdraw and reserve for military use about 604,789 acres of additional public land, and acquire about 65,160 acres of non-federal land for its range modernization and expansion. The Navy first proposed its range modernization and expansion in 2016, and from that time to the recent Record of Decision (ROD), the county commission participated in hundreds of hours of meetings with Navy officials and cooperating agencies.
Jeremy Drew, project manager with Resources Concepts Inc., has worked with the county in the process. He reviewed a comparison of county concerns with the ROD comparison at the last commission meeting.
“The Navy was very transparent in what they put in the Record of Decision,” Drew said via teleconference. “They came part of the way toward our position, but there’s still partially unresolved issues and some unresolved.”
Drew said members of the Nevada’s congressional delegation very supportive and how the proposal will “play out.”
Once the proposal arrives in Congress and winds itself through the different committees, he said the House and Senate versions will be different, but it will take a conference committee to resolve any outstanding differences. Drew said the timeline has the FRTC expansion proposal going to the House Armed Services Committee at the end of April, and then to the Senate Armed Services Committee in early May. He said overall approval could come as early as July or as late as December.
The Navy began working on the initial proposal during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, citing the current training ranges were insufficient to meet the needs of the military’s latest technology in warfare.
The Navy stated, “the purpose of the proposed action is to provide sustainable and modernized airspace, range, maneuver areas, training facilities and range infrastructure and resources that would support acceptably realistic air warfare training activities as well as special operations ground training activities in order to meet emergent and future threats.
“Increasing the size of the range would allow the Navy to realistically train with precision-guided munitions, which require greater safety buffer zones because they are launched from aircraft at higher altitudes and longer distances from targets. It would also allow ground forces to realistically conduct tactical ground mobility training.”
The language in the ROD states if the proposal is enacted, then the modernization of the training range will occur in increments.
Drew discussed significant issues by training areas:
B-16 (SEALs training area southwest of Fallon) — The county wants the Navy to adjust the northern and northwest corner of the proposed weapons danger area to include a re-route of Sand Canyon/Red Mountain roads around the northern perimeter and northwest corner of the withdrawal area at the Navy’s expense.
The Navy said it will clear and grub a direct road that will be used for range maintenance and security. The road will be used for public use. The county said clearing a grubbing without proper surfacing and maintenance can create issues with safety, erosion and noxious weeds.
The county commission requested the Navy relinquish three sections of existing Navy withdrawn land for the proposed Interstate-11 corridor. The Navy agreed, but the county would like to see more detail.
The Navy will relinquish the current withdrawn areas that include Simpson Road and the area south of the road. The Navy will so reconstruct Lone Tree Road at the government’s expense.
The county also appreciates that access for flood control will be maintained and assumes no restriction will be extended to use the range for emergency flood control.
The Navy said it will accommodate other public events on the range on a periodic basis. The county would like to see a minimum number of events per year.
B-17 (Range 30 miles east of Fallon) — The Navy will, to the greatest extent possible, reduce the areas to be withdrawn to align as closely as practicable to the Weapons Danger Zone (WDZ) arcs. The county would like to see any land outside the fenced zones revert back to the Bureau of Land Management.
The Navy will minimize overlap with the Bell Mountain mining claim by reducing the B-17 withdrawal to along with the WDZ arc within Township 15, Range 34 East and also avoid placing targets in biologically sensitive areas identified by the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Commissioners were pleased with the Navy’s plan on the major highways in the area.
“The Navy will not seek to withdraw any land associated with the following roads: US 50, US 95, State Route 839 (Rawhide) and Earthquake Fault Road. The withdrawal will not impact public access to State Route 121 (Dixie Valley).
“The Navy will request funding from Congress to realign State Route 361 outside of the expanded B-17. The Navy will work with the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), in cooperation with the NDOT, to plan, design, obtain necessary permits for, and construct the realignment of State Route 361 (Middlegate to Gabbs to Luning). Any potential resource impacts associated with the relocation of the road will be subject to the same commitments for the larger FRTC modernization identified under ‘Mitigation Measures and other Navy Commitments’ in this ROD.”
Furthermore, the Navy will establish a Bighorn Sheep Hunting Program on B-17, but the county would like to see a minimum number of days for a hunt program and the potential to go beyond the bighorn sheep.
B-20 (range north and northeast of Fallon) — The county said the Navy showed no willingness to adjust its WDZ to avoid Power Line Road and doesn’t meet the county’s request to avoid the Fallon National Wildlife Refuge.
The Navy will not seek to withdraw East County Road or land east of the road and not request withdrawal of any portion of the Stillwater NWR. The county said it appreciates the clarification and commitment.
Dixie Valley Training Area — The Navy will expand Bravo ranges (B-16, B-17 and B-20) and the Dixie Valley Training Area (DVTA) by requesting withdrawal and reservation of federal land and purchasing nonfederal land, but the county still supports a Congressional designation as a Special Management Area versus a withdrawal of these lands and reservation for military use.
Drew said the Navy didn’t addresses allowances for training activities.
Locatable minerals mining will be withdrawn and reserved by the Navy in the DVTA, which the county said, is consistent with what it proposed. Although the Navy didn’t incorporate the county’s suggestion, the county still supports a congressional designation for the DVTA as a Special Management Area that allows for identified training versus a withdrawal of these lands and reservation for military use.
The Navy stated in the EIS it will work with agencies, affected tribes and other stakeholders to develop Memoranda of Agreement, Memoranda of Understanding, or other protocols for land management of the DVTA to include continued open and unfenced grazing that will be allowed in the DVTA and will continue to be managed by BLM.
The county said it wants to see the assurances explained clearly in the legislative text. The Navy will accommodate the development of the Dixie Valley water project in the DVTA consistent with Navy training, but the county is concerned with the statement of consistent with Navy training.
The Navy will accommodate development of geothermal within the DVTA west of State Route 121 subject to required design features listed in the Final EIS.
Protocols for leasable minerals mining (including geothermal) and other land use requests will assure compatibility with the military mission with the BLM and other state and county agencies as appropriate. The county said it has an immediate concern over the potential lack of capacity for identified rights of way.
The county also seeks a greater assurance that the final legislation will give the importance of Dixie Valley and its connectivity to adjacent public lands in the Stillwater and Clan Alpine ranges; furthermore, the county said two main corridors are needed for the Dixie Valley Water Project alone (one for power and one for a water pipeline). The county said additional clarification may be needed for getting out of Dixie Valley to the east and west.
Special Land Management Overlay — The selected alternative supports the Navy’s request to establish a Special Land Management Overlay comprising two areas termed Military Electromagnetic Spectrum Special Use Zones. This matches the county’s support.
Other key provisions — The county continues supports fencing along the WDZ arcs and relinquishment of any areas outside o the fencing being reincorporated into the public domain.
The Navy agrees with the county to provide appropriate compensation for all private property (including water and mineral rights) affected by the Navy.
The Navy will develop and implement a Wildland Fire Management Plan to ensure fire management, control, and restoration activities are addressed, as appropriate, for the entire expanded FRTC. The county, though, said the implementation and success of the plan is contingent on increased funding and capabilities.
The ROD didn’t identify specific funding requests to Congress outside of the request to rebuild Lone Tree Road and State Route 361.
The county responded: “The proposal from the Navy and subsequent commitments made in the ROD still result in significant impacts to the county. Additional assurances for funding and incorporation of county recommended Lands Bill Components are the only way the county will come out of this project in a manner the maintains its customs, culture and economy for this and future generations.”