CANYON CITY – The Grant County Court is getting ready to weigh in on road changes in the Malheur National Forest’s Elk 16 and Big Mosquito projects, as the Forest Service objection period comes to a close in mid-May.
The Court last week put out a call for public comment on specific roads affected by the projects, which are detailed in draft decisions issued April 1 by Malheur Forest Supervisor Steve Beverlin.
The comments to the Court were due Tuesday.
The Forest Service earlier held its own public comment periods on the two forest projects. Only those who gave substantive comments at that time have standing to participate in the objection phase.
At the April 29 Court meeting, Commissioner Chris Labhart proposed the county seek comments. The Court unanimously approved a notice to that effect.
Labhart noted the Court needs to make a decision on any road issues in the projects and notify the Forest Service within the 45-day objection period.
He asked for comments that were specific to a particular road or segment of road, saying the Court would try to visit those roads and take a stand.
The process arose amid ongoing discussions focusing on the County’s Ordinance 2013-01, which states that all roads shall remain open “as historically and customarily utilized consistent with Grant County plans and policies, unless otherwise authorized for closure by the Grant County Court and Grant County Sheriff.”
County Judge Scott Myers asked Beverlin to clarify the Court’s standing for making objections, even on topics not cited in the county’s earlier comments.
Beverlin said those who commented have standing to object on any portion of the projects.
Labhart noted the Court is among 15-20 people or organizations that commented during the comment period, and thus has standing.
He said he wanted to hear from people with concerns, even if they didn’t make their own comments during the set period.
In response to a question, Beverlin said the Forest Service has taken input not only in its comment period, but throughout the scoping and development of the two projects, dating back four years for Elk 16 and about two years for Big Mosquito.
Some attending the Court session objected to the county’s process, and balked at any road changes.
“I don’t think you can move forward with this,” said Howard Gieger, who claimed it poses a conflict with the Forest Service’s travel management rule.
Brooks Smith, a member of the Grant County Public Forest Commission, called changes proposed for more than 300 roads in the two projects “major actions.”
He said the road decisions were to be done under travel management but are instead being done “project by project.”
He and others focused on the status of Level 1 roads, many of which are still in use regardless of their status on paper.
However, Beverlin said those roads are currently “closed” from prior decisions.
“We’re not closing them,” he said. “They already are.”
King Williams noted a lot of the roads were built for the Phoenix timber sale and then closed afterward.
While not concerned about the previously closed roads, he said he wants to look again at any currently open roads that are proposed to be closed or those that would be decommissioned, so they are not available for future use.
Jim Sproul objected to the Court’s approach, saying it is not following the ordinance to keep all roads open. The ordinance says the roads are open unless authorized otherwise by the Court and sheriff.
Myers said the ordinance gives the Court this opportunity to seek more public input, and the Court wants comments that are specific to certain roads of concern.
“Very simply – all of them,” replied Sproul. “It’s been put to you clearly.”
Labhart noted that the projects appear to include roads closed before the county ordinance was adopted.
“If they were legally closed, we don’t have a problem with them,” said Sproul.
Terry George said the Forest Service created its own “trap,” closing roads without showing that on the ground or on maps. To the general public in the forest, he said, those roads are open.
“We’re driving on them,” George said.
Myers urged people to comment, even given the short time frame to the May 5 deadline.
“From here on out, we’ll try to do this earlier, so people have a reasonable amount of time to comment,” he said.