SWEETWATER COUNTY — The Flaming Gorge Ranger District is considering a boundary adjustment of the Buckboard Marina’s special use permit that would transfer acreage that currently exists in the water to land surrounding the marina.
This proposed amendment to the special use permit is currently in the public scoping phase until Friday, April 21. However, Bryan Wilson, District Ranger for the Flaming Gorge Ranger District, said they are looking at extending the public scoping period.
“The jurisdiction of our special use permits for marinas is to count land as acreage. We’re currently counting water as acreage for all three marinas we’ve got,” Wilson said.
However, this proposed boundary change has raised concerns for several members of the public as they worry about how this will impact their access to these lands and the lake. The Sweetwater County Commission brought up these concerns to the Flaming Gorge Ranger District during Tuesday’s Commission meeting.
“The fear from the general public is that the marina is going by the wayside and it’s going to turn into a campground and a restaurant and bar or whatever else is down there, and that they won’t have any access, or [the permitee] won’t be required to produce any access and or required to continue to have a marina,” Chairman Keaton West said.
The Proposed Change
The adjustment to the marina’s boundary would remove water acreage and add areas of land to the east and south, including part of the South Buckboard areas that is currently used for dispersed camping. The adjustment would also increase the permitee’s authorized acreage by 3 acres, increasing it from 77 acres to 80 acres, which is the maximum acreage allowed.
“The water level at Flaming Gorge Reservoir has dropped drastically over the last five years,” the district stated in a press release. “The bay where the marina stations the docks has dropped in elevation to a point where they cannot function properly, as the cliffs pose too steep of a drop now that the water has receded.”
Due to the water dropping, Wilson said the marina owner has been moving his docks further and further. This boundary adjustment aims to “help preserve the recreational opportunities for rec users in Wyoming” and “to help maintain the Buckboard Marina to be viable and operational during the decline of water levels,” Wilson said.
Wilson added that the reduced water has also created an encroachment of dispersed campers to South Buckboard that have created management difficulties for both the marina and for law enforcement.
“We’ve got some issues with public safety,” Wilson said. People are shooting across water ways, there has been destruction of federal property such as signs getting shot up, and there are sanitation issues in which people are dumping black and gray water as well as garbage.
He said law enforcement officers (LEO) in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area have even been given direction that it is not safe to address violations after dark in the South Buckboard area due to the high risk situations. LEO Logan Linnan said that for whatever reason, South Buckboard does become an issue for law enforcement during the summer months.
Public Access Concerns
Revoking Access Due to ‘Bad Actors’
Commissioner Island Richards addressed the comments made about individuals abusing the land and breaking the law at the Gorge by saying that the behaviors of “bad actors” should not be solved by taking the land from the rest of the public.
LEO Linnan said public access is “paramount” to him, and he has never removed anyone from lands if they haven’t broken any laws or been a threat to public safety. It is not his job or his desire to inhibit the rest of the public based on the actions of some, he said.
However, Richards asked what would be keeping the permittee, the marina owner, from blocking the public from lands within the marina boundary. Linnan said the permit doesn’t revoke the area’s status as public lands.
“Regardless of if they’re on a permit or not, you can’t publicly trespass somebody off of public lands,” Linnan said. “I don’t know what else to do other than assure you that I have never removed somebody off of public lands based on a permittee’s want without having significant reason and or a violation of federal law to do so.”
Access to the Water
Les Tanner, former owner and operator of the Buckboard Marina for over 50 years, was present at the meeting to express his worries. He said he is concerned about the current state of the marina, and the access to the lake.
He said that if the water acreage is swapped for land, the forest service will lose those water rights and he worries that will mark the end of the marina.
“They’re giving up all the water rights to get these lands. Once that happens, there will never be a marina on this land,” Les said.
Greg Tanner, Rock Springs resident, expressed a similar concern, asking, “if you take that water away, where do you put the docks?” The permit allows 80-acres within the boundary lines, and Greg believes that Congress would have to increase that acreage to keep control of the water at the marina.
Les also said that if you extend the boundary of marina to the shoreline, rather than keep it extended out into the water, then it shuts the shoreline down for public access.
“Most of these people don’t have boats,” he said.
Wilson said, however, that the proposed boundary line follows the shoreline because if there are drought conditions, the marina would then still have the ability to be sustainable and operate with placing their docks in those deeper shores of the lake.
“If the docks couldn’t be moved, they’d be sitting on dirt or in the mud,” he said.
Jayson Roundy, Special Use Permit Administrator, echoed these remarks saying the bay in the proposed boundary would still be deep enough that they could have docks and pumps there.
“My understanding is that, that bay that we’re looking at is deep enough that even if the lake continued to drop another 35 feet it would be deep enough to continue to service docks, both theirs and ours, so that we can continue to serve the public out there. The bay between the marina and South Buckboard gets pretty shallow so we’ve struggled with both placing docks, maintaining them at a safe level, and then getting that pumper dock in, we just couldn’t extend the utilities out, and then we would have to put that thing right in the middle of that bay,” Roundy said.
He added that in talking with the marina owner, “their desire is to keep the docks where they’re at now”. If the water levels come up, Roundy said the permit holder is not looking to move the docks. Rather, “this is just a what-if plan should the water issues continue to drop.”
Existence of a Marina, Lack of Services
Commissioner Robb Slaughter said he has heard from constituents regarding concerns that the current permittee is not abiding to the rules that should be contained within the permit. This is due to the current lack of services offered at the marina including a gas fill up station for boats, black and gray water draining stations, and no water lines for fire protection.
“Those are necessary for a marina,” Slaughter said.
However, Wilson said those drains were pulled out to remodel them, and the remodeling is almost done.
“We’ve been doing the groundwork on extending the lines for those services,” Wilson said.
Les said the marina has been offering less and less since he transferred ownership in 2019.
“When I left that Gorge in ’19, there was a full-service marina, 160 slips, gas, pump out, full-service shop, full-service store. Now, we have a bar. We haven’t got a shop, we have nothing out there,” he said.
Slaughter asked if it is required for the permit holder to have gas fill up stations at the marina, as that is one of the major issues currently at Buckboard.
“There’s a perception… that the permit holder has no desire to put the gasoline in there,” Slaughter said.
Roundy said he wouldn’t consider it a “requirement” but it is a service that they were previously providing, and in discussions with the permit holder, it is a service they would like to provide. He said the existing fuel lines were leaking and causing issues with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and removing the fuel from the shore was the only solution. Then the permit holder ran out of funding.
“I do know he does want to get it out there for the public,” Roundy said.
With the public scoping period ending this Friday, the Commission feels they have been put into a time crunch. Commissioner Slaughter asked if the Commission could get copies of the permit so they can see exactly what requirements there are for the marina. However, Roundy said the permits cannot be doled out to just anybody because of some of the more confidential information in them.
Roundy said the Commission would need to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get access to the permit. Given the quickly approaching deadline for public scoping, the Commission is worried they will not get the permit in time. The public scoping period may be extended, but that decision has not been made yet.
The Commission will be sending a letter expressing their concerns to the Ashley National Forest, as well as including information that they are requesting a FOIA request for the permit. They will also be asking for additional time to be given for public scoping.