Commissioners express concerns on BLM initiative |

Commissioners express concerns on BLM initiative

Mike Sciandra

The Churchill County Commissioners submitted their comments on the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed Rule Planning 2.0 initiative in their regularly scheduled meeting last week.

The document consisting of more than 60 pages has been in the planning stage for two years according to County Manage Eleanor Lockwood, who said its intent is to “improve BLM’s ability to respond to environmental, economic and social change in a timely manner while strengthening the opportunity for other federal, state, and local government agencies to be involved (in decision making).”

Before the commissioners discussed the document at great length, resident Bob Clifford spoke during public comments and said he believes the BLM’s stated objectives in the initiative aren’t their real objectives, citing the landscape scale as pervasive.

“It’s also an effort to take things out of state boundaries, so when the states act to try to take over the management of public lands, the federal government and the BLM will come back and say ‘well, that doesn’t make any sense because all of these issues span beyond the boundary of individual states because of landscape scale,’” Clifford said. “So I think this is an effort to thwart the state’s efforts to take over management of these lands.”

Clifford also said he was concerned with certain items in the document detailing private partnerships similar to to the regional planning commissions which he believes start sucking power away from the county governments while taking over management of different things which used to be handled by the county.

Chairman Pete Olsen began the discussion with the commissioners and mentioned both he and Vice-Chair Tony Erquiaga went to the listing session where a BLM representative from Washington, D.C. met to hear public comments and concerns.

“In their documents they’re talking about making sure the counties and the public comment earlier in the process rather than later and diminish some of the county’s role,” Olsen said, “as well as some of the coordination they’re supposed to do. So this doesn’t represent a change, per se, other than in the language.”

Olsen added what was proposed in the document is in violation of the Federal Land Management Act (FLMA) of 1976, and he has grave concerns about moving forward in this way with landscaping moving high rather than staying focused on where BLM is.

“Right now the way BLM perceives public comment is so convoluted and difficult for the average citizen to put forward something that could be considered a substituent comment,” Olsen said. “They made it impossible for the average citizen. And then you take into account they aren’t really coordinating with us at the local level. They’re basically doing whatever they want and this doesn’t change that.”

Commissioner Bus Scharmann was largely in agreement with points made by Clifford and Olsen and said his main concern was BLM dealing with front-ending the process of public involvement.

“They want to provide more public comment sessions, more input opportunity and they will accept data and scientific fact and things like that front-end, but the back end where the decisions are made isn’t changing at all,” Scharmann said. “They’re still not subject to open meeting law. They take all of these suggestions just as they always have and take them behind closed doors to make their decisions. There’s no one at our level or at the state level involved in the decisio- making process. That’s the basic problem I have with the whole thing.”

Scharmann went on to cite sage grouse as an example from which to learn in situations like this dealing with Washington and a distrust of the administration.

“Until they’re ready to change that back-end and involve some people from our state in the decision-making process, this 2.0 is meaningless,” Scharmann said. “It’s the same as it’s always been.”

Erquiaga, though agreeing to the validity of his fellow commissioner’s points, said he wouldn’t want to see BLM throw the whole baby out despite a huge public distrust for their organization, which he said is mostly earned and deserved.

“No doubt there’s comments which need to be made and comments being made right now, but I know there are some parts in there we shouldn’t just throw away,” Erquiaga said. “I just don’t know that anybody really knows what they want.”

Commissioners also discussed or took action on the following items:

Passed a motion to renew Health, Dental and Vision Insurance for Churchill County Employees and Retirees for Fiscal Year 2016-2017.

Passed a motion to participate in litigation involving Stillwater Farm’s Appeal of State Engineer Ruling No. 6337.

Submitted an application to USDA for funding (grant/loan) for upgrades to the Pine Grove Sewer System.