Forest Service sets March 18 meeting on Jarbridge road

By JEFFRY MULLINS, Associate Editor

ELKO -- U.S. Forest Service officials have scheduled a public meeting March 18 in Elko on the controversial South Canyon Road project and other work in the Jarbridge area.

The "scoping meeting" will be from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Forest Service office in Elko, 2035 Last Chance Road.

Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Supervisor Bob Vaught filed a notice of intent Tuesday to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS), although Elko County has not submitted a plan for complete road repairs.

Public meetings on the environmental statement also will be held in Twin Falls, Boise and Reno.

"Participation by Elko County will be required in the implementation of these projects," Vaught said.

County officials, however, recently said they don't intend to cooperate with the federal agency until the topic of "interim work" on South Canyon Road has been settled.

County officials also said this morning that they had not received any notice of the meeting.

"I'm surprised they don't give us a little more notice than this," said Commissioner Nolan Lloyd.

The Elko Daily Free Press has not received any press releases about the meetings, either. Jarbridge liaison Jim Winfrey of the Ely Forest Service office said this morning that a press statement "is in the works" and its release "should be any day now."

In earlier letters to Elko County, Vaught said he was waiting for a road repair proposal to be submitted before he initiated the impact statement.

"The Forest Service has received no specific proposals from Elko County," Vaught said in his notice of intent. "However, the Forest Service believes that it is important to begin analyzing alternatives for road reconstruction and watershed improvements so they can be implemented as soon as practicable.

"Elko County will be invited to participate as a cooperating agency and can submit a proposal and it will be included in this analysis," he added.

The county and Forest Service reached a settlement agreement one year ago in the federal government's lawsuit against John Carpenter and other members of the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade.

"The Forest Service agreed not to contest Elko County's claim that it has a right of way for the South Canyon Road," Vaught said. "In exchange, Elko County agreed no to do any roadwork on the South Canyon Road without Forest Service authorization."

Though the agreement called for cooperation between the two governmental entities, no progress has been made. The county submitted a plan for interim repair work that Vaught said went beyond the scope of the agreement.

The agency has suggested using the county's interim plan as the final reconstruction plan. If that were to happen, only a few hundred feet of South Canyon Road would be fixed, instead of 1.4 miles.

The other projects are located between the Idaho state line and Upper Fox Creek Bridge along an 11-mile stretch of road. They were part of the settlement agreement, but the county is balking at them following the Forest Service's failure to approve its "interim" road repair plan.

"We will not proceed with other projects with the Forest Service until we have dealt with the interim repair on the washout," County Commissioner Warren Russell said last month at a meeting of the county's Public Lands Use Advisory Commission.

In a letter to Vaught dated Jan. 16, 2002, Russell and Commission Chairman Brad Roberts requested the Forest Service place interim repairs at the top of its priority list.

"Although you continue to insist that NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) applies under Section IIIB of the settlement agreement, you have not provided any documentation showing you have constitutional authority to control or assert NEPA on the interim repairs in the first washout," the commissioners wrote.

Vaught said the environmental report will focus on the threatened bull trout and the effects of working within the flood plain of the Jarbridge River.

He said the Forest Service's proposal is "to implement a set of proposed projects designed to improve the environment of the Jarbridge River Watershed. These projects are primarily focused on reconstructing portions of the road in the canyon bottom to reduce the direct input of sediment into the river from the road, to increase shade along the river and increase woody debris.

"The proposed action will be to authorize Elko County, where necessary, and allow the Forest Service to proceed with implementation of these projects," Vaught said.

Besides Elko County, other "cooperative agencies" listed on the project are the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Nevada Division of Wildlife and Nevada Division of Environmental Quality.

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