One agreement almost complete; other falls apart
RENO, Nev. (AP) – An agreement to end a long-simmering dispute between Elko County and the federal government over a washed out road and a threatened fish should be completed by early next week, attorneys said Monday.
But separate negotiations involving a citizens group called the Shovel Brigade fell apart, to the dismay of a federal judge, because of comments made by the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Nevada.
U.S. Magistrate Robert A. McQuaid said the federal government’s case against the Shovel Brigade will proceed to trial. The government sued the group after it led an effort to reopen the road without obtaining required permits
”I really don’t care,” McQuaid said after Demar Dahl, Shovel Brigade president, and Elko attorney Grant Gerber voiced concerns about remarks made by Bob Williams. ”I don’t think somebody like Mr. Williams will have any final say in what’s going to happen.”
In a story published last week, Williams told The Associated Press he thinks it’s unlikely that South Canyon Road can be rebuilt where it was along the Jarbidge River without violating federal law protecting the threatened bull trout.
Dahl said Williams’ comments showed he was biased and illustrated a ”lack of good faith” on the part of federal agencies in negotiations. Terms of that deal, hashed out over the past several months, already were approved tentatively by the Justice Department and the agencies it represents.
”We have run the proposal up through the chain and have approval of terms,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Blaine Welsh told the court, adding that Williams’ supervisors have signed the agreement with Elko County.
Dahl and Gerber wanted language inserted to assure the road would remain open but McQuaid said the case would go forward.
Randi Thompson, Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman in Reno, said Williams’ comments should not have been a surprise.
”The comments Bob Williams made recently are consistent with his concerns that he has voiced since Day One,” Thompson said. ”We are bound by law to protect the bull trout and will work with Elko County on any road proposal.”
A separate agreement involving Elko County and federal agencies has been resolved and all the needed signatures should be obtained by early next week.
Under that deal, the county would pay to rebuild the washed out section of road, although the U.S. Forest Service would pay for any required environmental studies and help seek federal assistance for expenses above county estimates.
The road has been at the center of dispute over land use policies since it washed out in 1995 and federal officials blocked the county’s attempts to rebuild it out of fear the threatened bull trout would be harmed. The dispute sparked the creation of the Shovel Brigade after thousands of sympathizers from around the nation donated shovels to protest the federal government’s decision.
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