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Old 05-24-2012, 11:34 AM   #1 (permalink)
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BLM road plans stir protest at Courthouse

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BLM road plans stir protest at Courthouse

By Scotta Callister Blue Mountain Eagle | Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 3:30 pm

CANYON CITY – About 45 people packed into the Grant County Court hearing room last Wednesday to protest a Bureau of Land Management proposal to close some roads in Grant and several other counties.

The group presented a petition signed by 141 people, asking the county to pass an ordinance affirming as public all roads and byways in existence before 1976.

“We use these roads – They’re part of our heritage, part of our culture,” said Thom Seal, a University of Nevada at Reno mining engineer who calls Grant County home.

Seal’s interest stems from his mining claim and land north of Prairie City. Others testifying also noted mining interests, but Seal said the impact would be felt also by hunters, four-wheel recreationists and wood cutters.

Several protesters waved signs outside the Courthouse before coming inside for the testimony. The activity was triggered by the BLM’s proposed resource management plan and final environmental impact statement for the lands the agency manages in the John Day River Basin, including more than 156,000 acres in Grant County.

In all, the John Day Basin Resource Management Plan will govern activities on 465,000 acres in eight counties: Grant, Wheeler, Gilliam, Sherman, Wasco, Jefferson, Umatilla and Morrow.

It will replace the 1986 Two Rivers plan, the 1985 John Day plan, and the 1989 Baker plan.

The plan has been in the works since 2009, with public meetings held in John Day and other communities. It is intended to help the agency maintain, improve, or restore resource conditions over the long term.

However, aspects of the preferred alternative released this spring alarmed some residents.

Seal said the agency is planning to close an array of roads the public has been using for generations.

“The bottom line is, we’ve got some bureaucrat sitting down and deciding where the public can and can’t go,” he said.

Seal said he won’t be able to access his property or a mining claim he has worked for years without getting a permit. He said he’s talked with the BLM about his next steps, and he isn’t happy.

“Now I have to request access to my own private property, which they don’t have to give me,” he said.

Mary Jacob of Government Camp also spoke against the plan. She said her extended family has six patented claims up Dixie and Slide creeks, and their cabin has been in constant use for five generations.

She said the family voluntarily improved the access road, thinned brush and trees and made other improvements.

“We’ve done a heckuva lot better job than the BLM has on road maintenance, and we want to continue that,” she said.

She said that if there are a few recreationists out there causing damage, the agencies ought to focus on that “rather than shut down roads for all the people.”

The closure of a BLM road worries her that in a fire, her family won’t be able to get out.

“We’re kind of landlocked up there,” she said. “We don’t want to be trapped up there.”

Monte Kuk, BLM team leader for the plan, said the agency has a fire mitigation specialist who looks into such situations. He said the BLM would be willing to work with the county and look into individual access issues.

He also said that while the management plan is expected to be finalized this week, the transportation plan – which details the road closures – is an appealable decision. The BLM said there will be more public input during the development of a final transportation plan.

The BLM proposes to reduce the road miles from 742 to 333 for year-round or seasonal use by the public. In reviewing the 742 miles, the agency identified 250 miles of roads that are considered “landlocked” and not accessible to the general public without private owner permission. Another 168 miles were deemed duplicate or ill-defined, and proposed for closed to reduce road density and decrease ecological impacts.

Kuk noted that the BLM has received “a spectrum” of comment from the public since 2009.

That prompted a response from Gregg Haberly, owner of the Polaris dealership in John Day: “Was it the people of this county? The government always goes toward Portland to get their answers, and it affects us. We live here.”

Chuck Chase, director of the Eastern Oregon Mining Association, noted that the access concerns come during a resurgence of interest in mining and minerals.

“Grant County has a rich history in minerals, both hard rock and placer,” he said.

He said the 1982 mining laws protect and guarantee access to mines. He said the BLM can’t legally cut off access to claims like Seal’s.
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Old 05-24-2012, 12:49 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Don't the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and RS2477 protect these rights-of-way?

Does BlueRibbon Coalition have any interest in jumping in here and joining the fight before momentum (and media coverage) are lost?
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