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Navy responds to range expansion in central Nevada

Steve Ranson
Nevada News Group

Need to know

For additional information, go to https://frtcmodernization.com

The Nevada News Group met with Navy officials on Friday to discuss the proposed Fallon Range Training Complex modernization and the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which came out on Jan. 10.

Rob Rule, Naval Air Station Fallon’s community plans and liaison officer, and Alex Stone, EIS program manager with the Navy’s U.S. Pacific Fleet, have been working on the proposal for a number of years. Stone has reviewed the criteria for developing the EIS. He previously said the Navy has conducted public scoping meetings and worked with different levels of government (local, state, and federal) and federally recognized Indian tribes.

The Navy and Churchill County will conduct a final informational meeting on Tuesday from 5-7 p.m. at the Fallon Convention Center. The two-hour session includes poster stations staffed by Navy representatives and a presentation beginning at 6 p.m. The final EIS going to the Secretary of the Navy will give the public their last opportunity to provide oral comments.

The Navy’s plan will affect five counties: Churchill, Lyon, Mineral, Nye and Pershing.

NNG: The Churchill County Commissioners still have concerns about the expansion and access.

Navy: This is a continued concern across the board. Access on the bombing ranges will be closed for safety. On Bravo 16 (range used for SEALs training), Sand Canyon Road will be closed since it cuts through the center of the training area. Simpson Road, though will remain open.

“B-16 has been on military land since the 1960s,” Rule said.

With more land added to the range, Rule said the SEALs will be using the additional space for their training. He also said he commissioners have asked the Navy for a 4-wheel drive road around the fence line.

“As the project stands up, we’ll look at those areas that will be cut off or removed and look where we can provide access,” Rule said. “The Navy may use the road to monitor the integrity of the fence line.”

NNG: Explain what will happened with the Dixie Valley Training Area (DVYA) east of Fallon.

Navy: Rule said any uneasiness from the commissioners has been addressed in the EIS.

“The DVTA access will not be restricted. We stated that in the EIS, the Record of Decision and legislatively. There are multiple points of validation,” Rule said.

Closing off the southeast portion of B-17 near Gabbs will impact hunting and tribal access, but Rule said plans exist for both. He said the Big Horn sheep in the mountain areas have been important assets for the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

“We will have a managed access plan for hunters,” Rule said.

The parts of the range will provide hunter access for 15 days around Christmas during an overlap time. The range goes cold for the holidays, but Rule said the other 50 weeks are designated for training.

Rule said the Navy will work with tribal groups for access to ceremonial or cultural points.

NNG: Must the state highway Nevada 361 that runs from U.S. Highway 50 at Middlegate Station to Gabbs be rerouted?

Navy: Rule said the Navy has been working with the Nevada Department of Transportation for more than three years to come up with a plan, but the Navy said a portion of the highway will be rebuilt east of B-17.

“The main reason the proposed training areas shifted is because of the Rawhide mine,” Rule said.

He said Rawhide is an economic driver for both Churchill and Mineral counties, and because of input from the stakeholders, he said the Navy agreed to shift the range more to the southeast. Rule also said the range expansion will not affect the Gabbs Airport.

In case of medical emergencies or fire suppression, Rule said the Navy training on the range and/or other ranges would shut down to allow for the federal or state government or a medical helicopter to respond.

During any fire suppression, Rule said the Navy policy is no ground firefighting because of ordnance. Air tankers or helicopters would be required to drop retardant on the affected areas.

“We really need to focus on having good partnerships with the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and NDOW,” Rule said.

NNG: Are there any plans for the Fallon National Wildlife Refuge east of the Carson Sink?

Navy: Rule said the BLM would string barbed wire fences in the area so animals can move from one area to another. He said the Navy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to resolve any issues.

Stone said the affected Fallon National Wildlife area consists of 2,400 acres that’s overlapping in the withdrawal area.

NNG: What’s occurring with rancher compensation?

Navy: BLM allotments will overlap on the bombing ranges, closing access to the land. One suggestion that was shelved asked if cattle could graze on the closed land. Rule said after consideration, that idea wouldn’t work because ranchers would still need access to round up the cattle.

Rule said the idea pushed the next button, provision 315Q of the Taylor Grazing Act.

“If the Department of Defense takes over an area for national security, we will pay for losses accrued by the permittee holder,” Rule said.

Rule said Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents Northern Nevada, has asked BM about nearby allotments. Rule also presented another idea — actual appraisal.

“Some type of value is made for those losses,” he said. “It’s paid out directly to the permittee holder.”

Rule said the Navy is continually looking at solutions with the BLM.

NNG: Is there talk of a land bill?

Navy: Rule said a land bill could be proposed to replace some of the county’s economic losses. He said checkerboard land near Interstate 80 in Churchill County could be used as an economic driver. Another area the county could receive in a lands bill would be a northwest section outside the city.

NNG: What is occurring with the DVTA?

Navy: The Navy has asked for no or little development in the DVTA. Additionally, access to the DVTA north of U.S. Highway 50 will not be closed. Any type of development, such as geothermal exploration and development, would be limited between the fault line to west of the Dixie Valley highway.

“We want a say in the development,” Rule said.

NNG: Churchill County is supporting the full release of Wildlife Study Areas (WSA) at Job Peak, Stillwater and Clan Alpine.

Navy: Only Congress can act on that.

NNG: What is causing some of the frustration between the Navy and county?

Navy: Stone said the Navy has been working with Churchill County since the initial plan was presented in 2016. He said the Navy has its guidelines, which may appear the military is not as flexible in its discussions with the commissioners.

“Some aspects will be difficult,” Stone said. “Safety requires us to have limits for land uses on the bombing ranges. It may seem inflexible or unaccommodating for the land uses, but safety will need to keep the bombing ranges closed.”

Given the policy of the DOD, Stone stressed again the direction is to provide safety.

Both Rule and Stone said there have been many processes in the EIS that have required “absolute commitments” during the time period.

NNG: Where do we stand with the final EIS?

Navy: “This is the Navy’s final recommendation,” Rule said.

He said there are 100% commitments on many items in the EIS, but he said the Navy will keep options open. The final decision after the Secretary of the Navy reviews the plan will be made by Congress. Stone said a balance is defining what the Navy wants to do and the flexibility in implementing the modernization and expansion.

“We know it will be a long-term project,” he said. “People asked for a lot of detail, and we tried to provide that, but we want to maintain flexibility to manage the land use. We don’t want to lock ourselves in.”

NNG: What is the time process?

Navy: After the Jan. 28 meeting, there is a 30-day review period, and then the Secretary of the Navy will issue a Record of Decision. From February to June or July, Congress will review the proposal and take action on it in the next National Defense Authorization Act.

Previously, Amodei said Congress should take action on the FRTC modernization no later than July because both the House and Senate adjourn for their August break.

If approved, Rule said history has shown the president will sign the bill in either November of December. The appropriation of money, though, will span several fiscal years. Rule said it will take time to acquire real estate, relocate the highway and install fencing.

“The project is fairly big,” he said.

Stone said the timeline for completion would cover from 5 to 10 years or longer.

“We’ll keep working on these issues with our stakeholders after Congress approves the withdrawal,” Stone said. “We’ll continue to involve the communities.”

Rule said it will take time for the Navy to be more specific with the areas to be fenced off and cultural surveys.

“What is it we need to learn from the tribes,” he said.

Stone said the withdrawal of lands and closing access for B-16 will move quicker because of the type of training.

The Navy has also asked for renewal of the exiting withdrawal that was last approved 20 years ago. He said the Navy will ask for a 25-year request for the current withdrawn land.

NNG: How do you address concerns from the owner of Middlegate Station that her business will be hurt?

Navy: All areas north of U.S. Highway 50 will be accessible for off-road enthusiasts as will land to the east and southeast. Rule said the earthquake fault road and Bell Mountain will be open as will the highway to Gabbs.

Although B-17 will be closed, Rule said there’s a way to mitigate that by involving other agencies and Middlegate Station.

Rule said Nevada Tourism and the BLM can have a conversation about clarifying off-road access. A survey can be given to customers who stop at Middlegate. He pointed out that although the Navy is requesting a total of 600,000 acres for its expansion, the military will close public access to half of that.

Rule said Cold Springs Station about 15 miles east of Middlegate has not expressed any concerns.