Officials conduct gun range scoping session
For proponents of a Carbon gun range as well as local officials dealing with the approval process, last Thursday was a long day.
The day began with a walk-through conference in the morning and a public scoping meeting that evening.
The initial meeting took place at the Carbon County Airport where gun range committee members, county officials, airport personnel, the contractor involved in the environmental assessment, a representative of a gas exploration and development company that has rights in the area and Bureau of Land Management officials met to discuss the process and to later look over the proposed range.
"There is a lot to turning over a piece of ground for such a project," said Mark Mackiewicz of the BLM. "Out agency must comply with the law on this including the National Environmental Protection Policy Act (NEPPA)."
Mackiewicz went over the process by which the land can be leased or conveyed to the county for the facility. The process is based on the Recreation Public Purpose Act of 1926 and it allows for the BLM to transfer lands to other government entities for useful purposes.
"The county must come up with a detailed plan of what they want to do with the property," he stated. "That includes the environmental assessment. We must look at this from the point of view as to what is best for the public."
An EA looks at a number of factors, including possible impacts on wildlife, fauna and any cultural resources that may be on the property.
Other factors that could impact the conveyance of the land include mineral rights and grazing rights.
"The mineral report must be detailed because certain kinds of conditions may prevent us from conveying surface rights," said Mackiewicz.
Mackiewicz explained that the BLM may want to lease the land to the county before they convey it. This brought up a point which could prove to be a hold up for the project.
"The problem with doing that is that the funding we have is grant money," said Dennis Dooley, representing the county at the meeting. "They won't let us use the money to build something on land that we don't own."
While that point was not totally resolved in the meeting, there was a general consensus that the problem could be worked out.
Concerns about the time it will take to put the deal together for the over 1,400 acres of land the county is requesting was one of the main topics of discussion at the meeting.
"I'd like to see a rough schedule mapped out of how long this will take," stated Dave Levanger, the county's building and zoning director.
The process of detailing everything began with Dave Steed, who is the project manager for Maxim, the firm that is doing the environmental assessment.
"There is a lot to do, but we will be able to get started next week," he stated. "I can have the cultural resource person on board right away and that will take five to 10 days. From my stand point I think we can be done in about 30 days."
Once the draft environmental assessment is finished it must then be presented to the BLM and they have to assess it, which takes three or four weeks.
The process will require constant communication between the contractor and the BLM for clarifications.
According to Mackiewicz once that is done the assessment will be sent out for public comment "probably about in mid-December." At that point the public has 45 days to comment on the document.
Based on the projections in the meeting it appeared things could be wrapped up by mid-February. But that largely depends on a number of factors.
Mackiewicz also pointed out some important issues about the situation. First, he told the group that if done, there will be a reversionary clause in the contract that allows for the federal government to take the land back if it is not used for the purposes that were agreed to.
Second, he said the amount of land the county is requesting is unusual and could hold up the process.
"I really would like to see this fine tuned as much as possible to get the acreage down to what you think you can absolutely use," he explained. "The 1,440 acres could very well get some protests and appeals. The people I have talked to don't recall anyone ever asking for this much land for a shooting range before."
There are a number of stakeholders in the land that is being requested already. Three of those include Westport Minerals, an oil and gas exploration and development company, the Carbon County Airport whose main runway's flight path goes directly over the proposed site and Nick Sampinos, who has the federal grazing rights on the property.
"What I am going to have to do is check with my company to see what plans they have for developing the fields in this area," said Bill McNab of Westport.
Angela Johannsen represented the airport and explained their position.
"Our highest traffic runway is 32 and over part of the range, aircraft will be as low as 200 feet in altitude," she told the group. "We just want to make sure everyone is protected against any possible problems."
The gun range committee had already agreed to change that part of the range from shotgun shooting to archery, and airport personnel have been happy with that move.
"I am sure it has been a long time since an airplane was shot down with a bow and arrow," quipped Don Burge, the executive director of the gun range committee. "I have talked with a lot of pilots and they don't seem to see a problem. The move from originally requesting 600 to the 1,440 acres we need now directly relates to this situation."
Burge expressed his concerns, however, about the gas-well development in the area saying that "well development has already put a lot of pressure on shooting sports in the area" because they have become so numerous that people can't shoot in many of their traditional spots in the county.
As far as the grazing rights are concerned, Sampinos could not attend the meeting, but had talked with Levanger about the situation.
"He has some concerns about a water pond in the area and what could be done in terms of fencing to keep cattle from wandering onto the range," stated the county official.
Mackiewicz pointed out that grazing was obviously incompatible with a gun range and that if the BLM decides to convey the land to the county, they have to give Sampinos a two year notice but did not have to compensate him for loss of grazing area. However they do compensate ranchers for any improvements that are lost because of the change.
He also pointed out some mitigation can be done in this area for wildlife habitat that could be lost as a result of the project.
Steed suggested that the county may be able to team up mitigation with some of the oil and gas operations in the area because they are already doing a lot of that for wildlife.
The meeting at the airport ended with Mackiewicz asking Levanger to find all property owners who may be affected by the range and to inform them of the possible development there.
The group then departed for the "walk through" of the property in question. The entourage started the trip through a gravel pit just south of the Desert Thunder Raceway and passed through all the projected venues on the range. They stopped at various spots along the way and Burge pointed out where the various sites would be.
On Thursday evening a public scoping meeting took place at the Southeastern Association of Governments Building in south Price.
Much of what was presented at the morning preparation meeting was also given to the crowd, which filled all the seats in the room.
At the end of the meeting the BLM had personnel available to answer questions and listen to comments from the group.
There was little opposition to the idea of the range. In fact, the audience was mostly filled with proponents of the project.