SWEETWATER COUNTY – Local officials are moving quickly to make their voices heard on the BLM’s proposed environmental impact statement for the Rock Springs Resource Management Plan.
The proposal was originally published Aug. 18 and the 90-day deadline for public comment ends Nov. 16. The Rock Springs City Council will host a workshop meeting next week, while the Sweetwater County commissioners are seeking an extension to the deadline.
The Rock Springs meeting will take place Sept. 25 at 4 p.m., and will focus on the draft resource plan. The city’s agenda lists Kimberlee Foster, the field manager for the BLM’s Rock Springs Field Office as an attendee to the meeting.
The BLM will host a public comment meeting in Rock Springs Sept. 27 from 3-6 p.m. at the Holiday Inn.
The county commissioners approved a letter to Foster Tuesday seeking an 120-day extension to the Nov. 16 deadline for public comment. The county’s proposed comment deadline would be March 15, 2024. Eric Bingham, the director of land use for the county, told SweetwaterNOW the deadline is tight and he’s prioritizing the major issues the county wants to address in its comments. With additional time, the county could provide more in-depth comments addressing the proposal. Bingham said the short timeframe to provide comments was one of the frustrating aspects of the situation.
“It’s so many pages, that’s why I’m hoping they extend that comment period,” Bingham said. “Once I got into it, I started going through it line by line.”
The letter highlights the fact the proposals have been in production for more than a decade and involves more than 1,300 pages of information that will dictate the future of how BLM lands are managed locally. That federal management will have economic implications within the county, according to the letter and Bingham. Alternative B, which is the agency’s preferred alternative, “conserves the most land area for physical, biological, and cultural resources,” according to the BLM’s RMP. Bingham said Alternative B would have the largest socio-economic impact on the county.
In Sweetwater County, the BLM manages 6,861 square miles of land, comprising more than two-thirds of the entire land area within the county. Approximately 70% of the total land in the county is managed by different federal agencies.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Mary Thoman was very critical of the BLM’s proposal, alleging the federal government was taking the choice out of the hands of state and local officials. She said the county and the Sweetwater County Conservation District Thoman was formerly the chair of had cooperated with the BLM for nearly 12 years on the management plan. She said Alternative D, which she described as a balance between conservation and development, is the preferred option. The BLM’s document states the alternative “allows for opportunities to use and develop resources within the planning area while promoting environmental conservation.”
THoman said officials in Washington, D.C., are using a heavy hand to force the conservation-focused Alternative B.
“They’ve sidestepped our local leaders. They’ve sidestepped our local field managers. They’ve sidestepped the state director of the BLM and tells them to put the heavy hand of D.C. on this BLM Resource Management Plan,” Thoman said.
She said the BLM didn’t give the county or other local cooperators a heads-up in which management philosophy it would be supporting. However, she also admits it isn’t a done deal. Residents can still make their voices heard. She hopes residents will show up to the BLM comment meetings and ask BLM officials what the preferred plan will do to their employment opportunities and access to hunting and fishing.
“The important thing to do is to ask to see the maps and talk about it will affect your life,” Thoman said.