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The Hills have ayes

December 18, 2010

County leaders are worried that a proposed federal designation for the Alabama Hills, a popular tourist destination outside of Lone Pine, will end up in an omnibus package. The Board of Supervisors fears that legislators will redraft the proposal if it is not a standalone piece of legislation. Photo by Mike Bodine

Though they continue to support the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group’s efforts to have a federal designation placed over the Alabama Hills, county leaders expressed fear that legislation creating a National Scenic area will be put into an omnibus bill.
In a 4-1 vote, the board decided to send a letter of support for the Alabama Hills designation to Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA-D), who has said she would carry the bill if it had community support.
Fourth District Supervisor Marty Fortney voted against the letter, saying he did not support more land designations in the county.
“I think we have more than enough land designations in Inyo County,” Fortney said. “I disapprove of this.”
The four remaining board members said they will continue to support the proposed National Scenic Area designation as long as more land use restrictions are not added on in the future.
First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius said she does not necessarily believe the Alabama Hills needs a federal designation placed over it, but said she fully supports the community effort that went into planning the designation, and would go with the recommendation residents put forward.
“I don’t think it needs to be designated, but I am supportive of the process,” she said.
In its letter to Feinstein, the board said that its support is strictly for the legislation “as proposed,” and will be withdrawn if changes are made.
“As you might imagine,” the board’s letter states, “the Board of Supervisors’ 4-1 decision to support proposed legislation seeking to designate portions of the Alabama Hills as a National Scenic Area does not come without concerns and reservations. In deciding to support the proposed legislation, the board is specifically recognizing the tremendous community-based process the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group has employed in advancing its proposal.”
Alabama Hills Stewardship Group member Kevin Mazzu, who has been working with the Bureau of Land Management and dozens of stakeholders on the proposed designation, met with Feinstein’s staff Friday to discuss the legislation.
Third District Supervisor Susan Cash said that she is aware of an omnibus bill that is gaining steam nationwide, and wanted to be sure that the Hills designation does not end up falling into the mass package of bills.
Cash said she fears changes will be made in the legislation if it is placed in the omnibus package.
“This needs to be standalone legislation, not in the omnibus package,” Cash said. “I still support this, it’s something the community has chewed on a long, long time.”
Arcularius told Mazzu that placing the Alabama Hills designation legislation in the omnibus bill “will make a sham of everything you’ve worked for” because legislators would add and change wording to suit their needs and wants, without regard for the years of work local community members put into creating a plan that is suitable for all who use the Hills.
Lone Pine resident Reginald Cook, who owns a piece of property near the Alabamas, but just outside the area selected for designation, asked for the Board of Supervisors’ help, as he has been paying for a right-of-way that gives him access to his property.
He said he is the only person paying the BLM to maintain the right-of-way, but many people use it.
Originally, he had hoped that the designation legislation could include wording that would free up that right-of-way, saving him money.
While Cook was discussing that option with the BLM, officials told him that they did not want to see that in the legislation, and wanted to work on the right-of-way issue with Cook directly.
Cash said that is illegal, as the BLM cannot dictate legislation.
According to Mazzu, Cook could have opted to bring the boundary of the designation right up to the right-of-way and his property, which may have provided legislators with an opportunity to address his access issue in the legislation, but he was not in favor of having the designation so close to his property line.
The board directed the Stewardship Group to work with Cook on his right-of-way concerns.
Mazzu said he would try to open dialogue between Feinstein, the BLM and Cook in hopes of reaching a resolution.

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