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BLM hoping to extend comment period, says many misunderstand process

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has yet to schedule a public hearing in Pahrump on revisions to the resource management plan, but the BLM is looking into extending the comment period, set to expire Jan. 7, said Rudy Evenson, the bureau’s deputy chief of communications for the state of Nevada.

Evenson said the comment period extension was requested by numerous parties including congressional, state and county officials. He said while alternative three is the preferred alternative by BLM staff, all the four options will be considered in the final environmental impact statement, including alternative four, the most pro-development option.

The final plan is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2015, Evenson said. After that will be another period for resolving any further issues, followed by a publication of the record of decision in the winter of 2015-16, he said.

Numerous Pahrump residents, and some Clark County residents including Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, spoke out against the revised plan during a special County Commission meeting Monday. Some of the criticism revolved around the designation of 20 new Areas of Critical Environmental Concern in Southern Nevada, including an area in western Pahrump Valley and Stewart Valley.

Evenson said there is a lot of misinformation going around about the BLM’s plan, especially regarding the Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.

“Areas of Critical Environmental Concern are established for specific purposes related only to the resource they are intended to protect; they are not total closures,” Evenson said. “Many of the specific management actions identified in the draft plan are much less restrictive than some folks are making them out to be. Under some alternatives, ACECs add restrictions on such activities as oil and gas exploration but leave public access just as open as it is now.”

He added, “the (plan) will not close any roads. Only after the final record of decision is published in the winter of 2015-16 will the BLM begin the process of detailed site-specific planning, which will give the public another opportunity to provide input on establishing a system of designated routes.”

Pahrump Rotary Club President Roy Mankins sent an email Monday to Pahrump BLM Field Office Manager Deborah McNeil, voicing concerns that the resource management plan is too large and all-encompassing.

“It is so large that each area of concern cannot be addressed adequately,” Mankins wrote. “BLM needs to extend the public comment period, allow open discussion and break this up into more manageable groups. There really would be no need for much of this action if BLM would merely enforce the existing regulations.”

Mark Tanaka-Sanders, Pahrump liaison officer for the Bureau, said in a reply email to Mankins and obtained by the Times that planned public meetings “were never intended to be open forums for discussions on all the topics.”

The email from Tanaka-Sanders stated, in part, “There came to be great confusion and many misstatements made in the press about the nature and purpose of the public meetings. I attended the meeting held in Amargosa and it was very respectful and productive. Somewhere along the line agitators started getting before TV cameras and claiming that they were being denied the right to comment, that BLM wouldn’t listen to comments anyway and other factless statements. “

He faulted the press for not confirming comments made at protests, like the one in front of the Bob Ruud Community Center when the Nov. 13 public hearing in Pahrump was postponed, in search of a larger venue. No new meeting in Pahrump has been scheduled.

Tanaka-Sanders said the public meeting was intended to inform towns about the National Environmental Policy Act process, and what input the BLM was seeking.

“Although some in the media thought we should have had public forums where people came and yelled at staff and waved signs and protested the federal government, that would not have resulted in substantive comments that would affect the direction of the draft resource management plan,” Tanaka-Sanders wrote.

“They were not designed to be town hall type gripe sessions about the agency’s roles and responsibilities, which by the way are set by Congress, not district management plans,” Tanaka-Sanders wrote. He added the resource management planning effort has been underway for “several years” and that BLM did listen to ideas from citizens, communities and local governments to update the 1998 plan.

Tanaka-Sanders said court stenographers were available to take comments at public meetings. A tutorial on the BLM website includes information how to make effective comments, he said, in the future the BLM is planning to use a copy and paste format that will make it easy to record comments.

“Everyone I’ve dealt with since coming to BLM really wants the process to work. Unfortunately the open dialog that you and I would hope for was shouted down by people who haven’t even apparently looked at the draft. The solutions to land management issues and suggestions to make planning effective will not be achieved by shouting on street corners. That can be an effective means to address grievances and garner support for a cause or against the government, as used by Samuel Adams and others. But at this point there is nothing tangible to protest, since there is no plan or decision to disagree with, just alternatives awaiting comment,” he wrote.

Mankins invited a BLM representative to appear at a Pahrump Valley Rotary Club meeting as a monthly speaker. The Rotary Club meets at noon every Thursday at the China Wok.

“What I get from talking to him, the (resource management plan) being proposed is strictly a high altitude look at the property and a start to future (resource management plan) on each individual parcel being proposed, with no restrictions and no stuff currently going to happen,” Mankins said. “If the (plan) is approved, no matter which one, all that is is the next step in taking an individual look at each piece and continuing to bring the stakeholders involved in the process and refining the plan. They’re saying this resource management plan is a start to go forward.”

Tanaka-Sanders said it’s a good idea for as many people as possible to submit comments and they will be read. Mankins said restricting access would reduce access for events like a Taste of Dakar motorcycle rally that attracts 300 people to Pahrump every spring.

“We are all concerned. This is our world. We just got legislation through the state so we can use our ATVs from our home to the desert or the motel to the desert, we were hoping that would increase tourism to our town,” Mankins said. “There’s all sorts of economic benefit that will finally accrue because we’re finally getting a reputation for being BLM friendly for having absolutely perfect riding conditions all the time and for having terrain that is challenging and safe. For now to come and say we’re not going to allow any of this stuff, I don’t like. But then the only way to fix it is to do what they want, to make comments.”

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