Call to Action for the West Side Snowy Range Travel Management NPA

 

Sarah Hutchins

Forest Service employees discuss the West Side Snowy Range Travel Management Notice of Proposed Action (NPA) to the nearly 200 attendees.

Approximately 200 citizens from the region were present at the final public meeting for the West Side Snowy Range Travel Management Notice of Proposed Action (NPA). The meeting was held directly after the Carbon County Commissioners meeting at 5 p.m. on April 21 at the Platte Valley Community Center. Although there were varying comments from the public, there was one common thread. The public needs more time to process. 

During the two and a half hour public meeting, there were approximately 25 separate comments that the meeting allotted as well as an hour of casual discussion afterwards.  

The meeting commenced with Melanie Fullman, District Ranger for the Brush Creek/Hayden Ranger District, explaining the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and the importance of the Notice of Proposed Action. "One of the key components of presenting a proposal is to get feedback, alternatives, things that we may not have considered, things that we need for development of additional alternatives." 


Within the overview for how NEPA will proceed under this project, Fullman stated that she was still unsure about how the objection process will work "One question that still hasn't been answered is that one party might object, I'd meet with them, try to come out with some sort of resolution, but the resolution might cause somebody else to object. As an agency, we are still trying to figure out how to get out of that cycle."  

The current 45-day objection period occurs when the Notice of Proposed Decision is published. This is after the Environmental Assessment and its own 30-day comment period.  

When the public was given their time to comment, questions surrounding this heated topic varied. Many questions were related to Forest Service budgeting and potential liability.  

One citizen at the meeting wanted to know the budgeting history as well as the chain of command. "The USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] has the second highest budget in history. Forest Service, you are only down 2.5 percent in budget.... But as part of this process we need to see the districts budget, who is in charge in the chain of command. We want to know who's responsible and how we address this." 

Fullman suggested that the annual budget report should be put into perspective. "You have to look back to bring everything forward. So it has been steadily decreasing for the past 10-20 years. A significant percentage of the budget is spent on fire suppression [48 percent]. That will be displayed on the environmental analysis that I am working on currently." 

Another citizen asked about the cost associated with the entire Travel Management project itself-as in only developing this plan-not implementing. Fullman explained that a portion of project funds, $109,000, was given to the Forest Service by the state as grant funding. According to Fullman, the state suggested to the Forest Service to take a look at expanding motorized trails.

Multiple citizens attending the meeting wanted to know why the Forest Service could not designate "use at your own risk" signs on roads that they do not have resources to maintain. After the citizens comments on this topic, Fullman wanted to make it known that, "For a base minimum, the road has to be safe and sustainable." According to Fullman, the road cannot pose a lethal hazard to users and that the Forest Service is still liable regardless.

If the status quo remains, the end of the NPA comment period was Tuesday, after press time. Fullman suggested towards the end of the public meeting that further extension of the NEPA process is plausible. "It is something that I have been pondering, but I don't have a specific decision at this time," said Fullman.

According to Fullman, she hopes to have the Environmental Assessment published by early June. 

 

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