Lemhi County Citizen Journalism

Leslie Shumate's picture


On September 11, 2017 Bureau of Land Management Field Office Manager Linda Price and BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Skeet Townley brought Lemhi County Commissioner’s Chairman Ken Miner and Commissioner Brett Barsalou up to date on BLM projects and issues. Price led the list with ongoing conditions at Gold Bug Hot Springs. 

The constant overuse of the area near Elk Bend is causing problems that according to Price are not going to go away.

Townley said parking and human waste issues are foremost on the list of grievances. He said the agency is going to have to look at some form of restricted use such as ‘no parking’ enforcement along the road, some form of permit system limiting use to a certain number of visitors per day and/or designated campsites only. 

Barsalou brought up the issue of mixed jurisdiction among law enforcement plus the two agencies involved in the area. Price mentioned there is a difference between Department of Agriculture regulations and Department of Interior regulations. She said the idea of some sort of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to bridge the differences and give management authority to the BLM has been discussed. She sees the Forest Service’s new Forest Plan being worked on right now as an opportunity to look at workable alternatives for the Gold Bug Hot Springs area. 

Price said she and Townley are adamant about not moving the trailhead to any other location simply because the present one is listed in every trailhead book nationwide and people will continue to end up there. Increasing parking space is also not a solution since increasing the parking only increases the problem.

Townley said there are now counters so actual traffic numbers are available. He said at least half of the Montana eclipse watchers wound up at Gold Bug. 

Price said restricting the use is not popular but is doable. She said the agency is not quite to that point however; if usage continues to increase the agency will be obliged to consider it. 

Changing topics, the land on which the County Landfill operates is leased to the county by the BLM under the Realty Action-Recreation and Public Purposes Act (R&PP). The act makes it possible for the BLM to lease its land to county or city entities for such things as schools, libraries or parks and for landfill facilities. Under the original premise if the land ceased to be used for the intended purpose the property goes back to the agency. Price said the BLM has decided it no longer wants properties used as landfills and is no longer entering into R&PP leases for landfills. 

The county wants to expand the Landfill to the north. Price told the commissioners that under present policy the acreage to the north of the landfill would have to be purchased from the BLM at the current assessed valuation. The R&PP process comes under the agency’s Resource Management Plan which was written for the Salmon Field Office in 1987. Acres for acquisition or disposition were named in that plan and around 15 years ago all acreage named had been processed. 

Now, for the county to buy the BLM land it would first have make an official written offer. That would be followed by a county request for an R&PP amendment process to the Resource Plan. The entity making the request has to pay administration costs for the process. Price said the amendment process normally requires an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment. She said an amendment takes a few years to do. 

Price said the local BLM office is already trying to initiate an R&PP amendment to the 30 year old Resource Management Plan so her advice was for the county to wait for that process and insert the north acreage into the BLM amendment under a “disposition status.” She said it would save the county the $20,000 cost of initiating an amendment process on its own but, could also take around four years. She recommended the county join the current efforts towards an amendment and enter into a Memorandum of Understanding as a cooperating agency.

The agency’s Salmon office, Challis office and Upper Snake River office are planning to all do their amendments at the same time. A pre-plan request was sent to Washington DC 18 months ago and permission to initiate the process has yet to be received. Price said the Washington energy planning emphasis has since changed to oil, gas and mineral states.

Commissioner Miner was appalled at how such a simple matter of exchanging a few acres of land can become so complex that it will take years to achieve. 

Price indicated the situation is a good example of how the old plan isn’t working and she will continue to push for a new amendment which would make such things as a landfill expansion to the north much easier. Price said that based on current usable acreage the landfill will last another 30 to 40 to 50 years.

The county already has permission to expand the landfill to the south which would not be as beneficial but is an option the county could choose. The county will also make contact with the person in charge of the cooperative agency MOU.

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