County leaders have began the process of joining two separate working groups to help decide how changes to public lands in Inyo County will impact residents and visitors.
The Board of Supervisors approved two agreements with the Bureau of Land Management and another with the National Park Service, that will give local leaders a seat at the table as the federal agencies move forward with two projects.
The BLM is planning to complete a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and associated Travel Management plans within the West Mojave portion of the California Desert Conservation Area.
The BLM identified a network of motorized vehicle routes in the WEMO area back in 2003, originally dubbed the â€śWestern Mojave Desert Off-Road Vehicle Designation Project.â€ť That plan was modified, then adopted in 2006, but a lawsuit led to a January 2011 order from the U.S. District Court in California to remand portions of the plan, including the motorized vehicle route network.
The BLM was ordered to revise the plan, which is due by March 31, 2014.
As the federal agency moves forward, it is inviting local governments whose constituents may be impacted by the action to get involved.
Fifth District Supervisor Richard Cervantes, whose district includes WEMO portion of the Desert Conservation Area, said he was apprehensive about entering into an Memorandum of Understanding with the BLM regarding the project because he believes the program is unlawful.
â€śFirst off, I feel the whole WEMO is an illegal act,â€ť Cervantes said. â€śI cannot support the WEMO in any way. All of this has been done in an effort to eliminate mining.â€ť
Inyo County Planner Dan Stewart said that, despite any feelings that the WEMO plan is right or wrong, the county should participate in the working group so it is at least aware of the changes that will be coming.
â€śIf we donâ€™t participate, then we have no impact on what happens,â€ť Stewart said. â€śWeâ€™re not necessarily agreeing with this in any way.â€ť
With that clarification, Cervantes made a motion, which the board approved unanimously, to join the working group.
The board also decided to join a Cooperating Agency Agreement with the National Park Service as it begins working on the Saline Valley Warm Spring Management Plan and an Environmental Impact Statement that will accompany it.
â€śSaline Valley has a long history and there is a tremendous amount of use out there,â€ť Cervantes, whoâ€™s district also includes the valley, said. â€śA lot of people just want to go out there and run around naked. I think we should have a dialogue about that.â€ť
Inyo County Planning Director Josh Hart also said that the state Environmental Health Department has some concerns about the way the hot springs in Saline Valley are set up, and those concerns will also be addressed in the management plan.
Hart said the hot springs are a relatively small geographic area but there is a large amount of interest, as it is a heavily used recreation site.
The board unanimously agreed to participate in the cooperating agency in an effort to steer actions toward a user-friendly, environmentally-sound solution.