Home News Local News Pending BLM plan still a concern for some Chaves County officials

Pending BLM plan still a concern for some Chaves County officials

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Local Bureau of Land Management officials hope to meet with Washington, D.C., managers this week to talk about the Carlsbad Resource Management Plan draft, says Jim Stovall, at right, district manager of the Pecos Valley District of the BLM, which includes Roswell and Carlsbad offices. The Carlsbad plan involves some land in the "boothill" of Chaves County. Also shown in this March 2016 photo is George MacDonell, at that time field manager of the Carlsbad office. Stovall and MacDonell met last spring to talk to Chaves County Commissioners about the plan. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Some Chaves County officials reiterated their concerns about a draft plan governing management of federal land, a plan begun more than six years ago but still not ready for public review.

Once adopted, which is still many months, if not a year or more away, the Carlsbad Resource Management Plan will govern how the BLM makes decisions about the federal land under the jurisdiction of the plan.

For example, the plan would outline where oil and gas exploration or agricultural activity are allowed. The federal land includes portions of the “boothill” of Chaves County and Lea County, although it primarily concerns land in Eddy County.

Officials with the Pecos Valley District of the BLM, which includes Roswell and Carlsbad offices, spoke to members of the Chaves County Public Land Council Thursday night about where the plan stood.

Local BLM officials are scheduled to brief Washington, D.C. managers this week, said Jim Stovall, district manager with the Pecos Valley District.

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“We are scheduled for (Thursday),” Stovall said, “But then we also got some emails saying there were conflicts. We hope to get on the docket so that we can brief them.”

Stovall said that the last time local officials discussed the entire draft plan with Washington officials was in February. Then, given changes occurring as a result of the presidential elections, no activity occurred regarding the plan while “priorities and themes” of the White House administration changed.

Even after meeting with Washington managers, local officials will have to make changes to the draft before it will be ready for public release and a mandatory public review and comment period, which would include town hall meetings throughout the region.

Some Land Council members voiced concerns about not having enough information and about sections of land suggested as Areas of Critical Environmental Concerns and Land With Wilderness Characteristics.

As discussed in previous meetings with Chaves County Commissioners, the county is disputing at least three portions of county land that have been nominated for those designations, which would bar or limit their uses by agricultural or oil and gas interests. At prior meetings, people spoke of how the land is already used in ways that would be contrary to those designations.

Chaves County is also part of a multiagency lawsuit against the BLM concerning its planning processes. Among the complaints in the lawsuit over a recently passed planning rule is the allegation that the BLM is not properly consulting with counties as “cooperating agencies,” as required by federal law.

“That is sort of the scary thing to me is that there are all these alternatives out there, with some you really don’t want and some of them where they say, well, I guess we will just leave it alone,” Chesser said. “It sort of feels like to me — I don’t know about the board here — that our hands are pretty well tied. … Until you pick the alternatives, we don’t really know where we stand.”

He explained that he believes some areas suggested to be included as Land with Wilderness Characteristics have tanks, roads, windmills and other indications that the parcels are frequently used for human activity.

“What do we do about that? From what I’ve been hearing, that land shouldn’t be in there,” Chesser said.

Stovall said that county officials cannot attend the briefing in Washington, but that they can communicate with Washington managers separately. Some of their concerns are also noted in the draft, BLM officials said.

Ty Allen of the Carlsbad BLM office also said he would be willing to meet with county officials at the parcels in question so that they can discuss the proposed designations and concerns.

‘The take-home message that I hope you take home is that we have to approach it within the policy regulations and guidelines that we are issued and we will do that,” said Chuck Schmidt, field manager of the Roswell office. “There is nobody who wants that draft of the plan out there than this group and as soon as they can possibly open it up, they are going to.”

Schmidt and Land Council member Dan Girand also suggested that county officials and BLM managers start now to discuss how they can cooperate in the future on land planning issues.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.