CANYON CITY – Members of a public lands access group issued an ultimatum to the Grant County Court last week, reiterating their stand against any road closures on the national forest.
Jim Sproul told the Court people are unhappy with the current state of discussions about roads and access on the Malheur National Forest.
“We’re sick and tired of you sitting on your hands and doing nothing,” he said. “By June 1, there will be action out of this Court, or we will take it to the next step.”
He said that was a “solemn promise,” not a threat.
Sproul and others complain the Court is not heeding the county ordinance passed in 2013 that requires agencies to get access changes approved by the Court and the sheriff. They also referred to a 1995 vote to keep all roads open.
Ron Phillips asked, “When are you going to get behind the people who elected you?”
He and others took umbrage at hearing officials had described them as “a vocal minority.”
Asked about the commissioners’ position on access, County Judge Scott Myers said the Court is having discussions with the Forest Service about roads, and following the ordinance.
He said that process is “working much better than it has in the last 25-30 years.”
However, road advocates say the conversation is still coming too late in the process – after decisions are proposed and through the comment period.
Myers said the Court is monitoring the forest projects and proposals.
“We’re sorry if it appears things are moving slowly, but things are moving,” he said.
However, people in the audience said they are in the dark about the Court’s position on roads, despite five or six meetings that focused on the issues.
“None of us have any idea where you stand,” said Rod Smith, noting the ordinance requires the Court to either support or reject closures proposed by the Forest Service.
Billie Jo George echoed that frustration, noting that when Forest Service officials make presentations to the Court, “there’s never any result.”
“At what point do the three of you say, ‘you can close this road’ or ‘you can’t close this road?’” she asked.
She said the Forest Service is decommissioning roads to meet a quota, and the Court should take a stand.
Sam Palmer said he’s getting the sense the Court is answering to the Forest Service, not the people. He urged them to send a letter to the Forest Service, and the public, saying they will not allow another road closure– and that all roads will be considered open until documentation is provided to justify a change.
Palmer also said there has been talk in the past about the Forest Service giving the roads over to the county.
“I think we should take them. That’s our infrastructure,” he said.
Howard Gieger said the Court should realize that closing just one road may “lock up a lot of land.”
He suggested the Court should send a “cease and desist” on roads, and also ask for specific National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents.
Sproul noted that “access is a real hot-button issue, and our access in our county is at a turning point … And it’s getting worse, not better.”
He raised concerns about recent talk that pressure on roads will jeopardize logging and timber work on the forest, comments the group took as a threat.
“That’s childish,” he said. “Don’t do it any further.”
Myers said he didn’t believe the Court had made such threats, and noted that comments may have been taken out of context.
The threat concern also came up in a previous Court session, drawing a response from Russ Young of Iron Triangle. He said he felt a comment by Malheur Forest Supervisor Steve Beverlin had been “spun” and misunderstood.
He said the comment came in a broader context about the way working together creates solutions while disputes over issues like roads could bog down the progress under way on the forest.
Gieger said the threat talk is still circulating in the county, and he and others attributed it to Commissioner Boyd Britton. Some said it was recorded on tape, which prompted Myers to caution that he hoped such taping was done legally.