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BLM Plan hanging by a thread

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March 02, 2003 03:20PM
Sunday, March 2, 2003

Kern bails from West Mojave Plan

San Bernardino goes it alone as Kern officials withdraw sponsorship

By NIKKI COBB/Staff Writer

VICTORVILLE — A federal plan to protect endangered Mojave Desert plants and animals may be in jeopardy after Kern County officials announced they would no longer agree to sponsor the blueprint as it navigates its way through California's regulatory maze.

The Bureau of Land Management's so-called West Mojave Plan promises to not only safeguard the habitats of the desert tortoise and Mojave ground squirrel but also streamline the permitting process developers must slog through on 9.2 million acres of public and private lands in San Bernardino, Kern and Inyo counties.

Now San Bernardino County is the sole sponsor of the cornerstone of the plan, its environmental impact report.

In trying to accommodate environmentalists, miners, ranchers, recreational and off-road vehicle enthusiasts and a myriad of other interests, the BLM is walking a
fine line, and San Bernardino County officials are concerned the measures will be
overly strict or expensive.To get through the California Environmental Quality Act
review process, the BLM must submit an environmental impact report detailing its
plan.

To expedite the processing of such a report, the BLM is counting on the support of a California governmental agency, in this case Kern, Inyo or San Bernardino counties to act as a sponsor.

Plan could be in danger

With Kern withdrawing its support and San Bernardino considering the same, the BLM plan may be in danger.

To be sure, BLM officials could impose the plan on federally controlled lands, but privately owned land would not see the benefits of the environmental protection measures or the streamlined permitting process.

Kern County officials say they are concerned that a key agency isn't on board with the plan's environmental impact report, a claim representatives of the California Department of Fish and Game deny.

"In my experience it is not prudent to sign on to something like this if issues aren't resolved with all participating agencies," said Ted James, planning director for Kern County.

"The Department of Fish and Game is not convinced the environmental mitigation strategies in the plan are adequate, and that's really the whole program," James continued.

However, Alan Pickard, deputy regional manager for the California Department of Fish and Game, said his agency isn't opposed to the measures the BLM has proposed to conserve wildlife and their habitats.

"It's not that we don't endorse the mitigation plan," Pickard explained. "It's just that we haven't had enough time to review it yet."

Randy Scott, division chief for advanced planning for San Bernardino County, called Kern County's position "disconcerting."

"They have participated for two years representing their stakeholders," Scott said. "Now they're not providing the commitment that we thought was forthcoming."

One stop shopping

The BLM, in formulating the West Mojave Plan, is creating a joint environmental impact report, satisfying state regulations, and a environmental impact statement, adhering to federal rules. That would mean "one stop shopping" for developers, who now have to apply separately to federal and state agencies.

However if, as Kern County officials fear, California Fish and Game officials were to balk at the terms of the completed plan, the expedited permitting benefits would be undermined and the California agency could impose its own regulations on state land and on private land to the extent of its authority.

As long as San Bernardino stays on board with the plan, Kern and Inyo counties could still take advantage of it.

But Brad Mitzelfelt, spokesman for First District Supervisor Bill Postmus, said his boss isn't making any promises to support the West Mojave Plan.

"The proposal won't be worth the paper it's printed on if it doesn't allow for economic growth and reasonable regulations for the county," he said. "It remains to be seen whether they will come up with something workable."

Nikki Cobb can be reached at
nikki_cobb@link.freedom.com">[email protected] or 951-6277
SubjectAuthorViewsPosted

BLM Plan hanging by a thread

katrina island 1015March 02, 2003 03:20PM



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