Nevada's'Shovel Brigade'in outhouse feud with Forest Service

Associated Press
Reno Gazette


Elko County, Nevada - Call them the"Outhouse Brigade."

A group of northeast Nevadans feuding with the U.S. Forest Service over control of a remote national forest road near a trout stream is vowing to defy the agency and drive up the road to clean out a public outhouse.

The Forest Service, concerned about the effects on the threatened bull trout, has forbidden vehicles from using South Canyon Road since the Jarbidge River flooded and washed out most of it in 1995.

A coalition of anti-federal activists and a local citizens group in Elko County dubbed the"Shovel Brigade"began trying to reopen the road near the Idaho state line three years ago.

This summer, Idaho members of a four-wheel drive truck club succeeded in negotiating the entire 1.5-mile stretch to the campground outhouse that has become an unusual symbol in the ongoing public lands dispute over property rights and environmental protection.

Forest Service officials considered sending a helicopter to the remote mountain area bordering federal wilderness near Jarbidge to empty the outhouse before they learned it would cost $10,000.

Bob Vaught, Forest Service supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, said the citizens group has no authority to use the road and that he plans to meet with its members and Elko County Commissioners to try get the planned cleanup canceled.

Activists said they're intent on carrying out their plan Oct. 18 to keep the toilet vault from leaking sewage into the river.

"When the Forest Service said they were going up there with a helicopter at a cost of $10,000, we told them we'd do it and it won't cost the taxpayers a nickel,"said O.Q."Chris"Johnson, a member of the"Shovel Brigade."

"The road is open. It's a county road,"said Johnson, who argues the federal government has no jurisdiction because the road existed before the national forest was established in the early 1900s.

"They have nothing to say about it,"he told The Associated Press.

The Forest Service thinks otherwise.

"It is a Forest Service issue, it is not a county issue,"Vaught told AP.

"It is not for the `Shovel Brigade'or any other third party to figure out. We don't currently have an interest in having a volunteer group do this work,"he said Thursday.

Vaught said that in addition to potential violations to the Endangered Species Act, there are"considerable risks"if untrained volunteers handle the sewage.

"There's the potential of spills right in the river environment,"he said.

Vaught said agency scientists recently took water samples from the river near the outhouse and that a state lab found no sign of leakage. He said weekly monitoring would continue.

"It's a sealed vault toilet. While it is relatively full, it is not currently causing a problem as far as we know,"Vaught said.

"If we find leakage, we will take immediate action. If we continue to find no leakage, then that gives us more flexibility in finding the most reasonable and most cost-effective approach to remove the effluent,"he said.

John Eickhof, the head of the group of vintage Dodge power wagon collectors _ the Idaho Trail Ride _ that intends to help with the project, said it took them nearly four hours to drive the 1.5 miles of"very rough road"in June.

"We became heroes in the town because they have been wanting to get back up there for years,"Eickhof said by telephone from his hometown of Wendell, Idaho.

"We're not doing it for money or anything. We're just doing it to help the area. Our goal is to get the road open. It's a really beautiful area,"he said.

Eickhof said his group plans to bring a 200-gallon tank on the back of a pickup truck to haul out the waste.

"I don't see there being any real problem going up there as long as we don't cause any damage. ... The whole stink, so to speak, is unfounded."

Copyright © 2002 The Reno Gazette-Journal


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