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Churchill County commissioners learn how Fallon range expansion affects county

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Churchill County commissioners received a detailed briefing at their last December meeting on how the recently-approved Fallon Range Training Complex’s expansion and modernization will play out in central Nevada.

Jeremy Drew, principal resource specialist with Resources Concept in Carson City, has been assisting the commissioners on the FRTC complex for six years since the Navy presented its plan in August 2016. He said the Nevada delegation of Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen and Rep. Mark Amodei, who represents Northern Nevada, worked on the provisions affecting the range modernization and expansion. Earlier this month the Senate approved the NDAA, 83-11. The House also approved the measure, 350-80.

The FRTC is receiving an additional 558,535 acres for military training although some land will remain under the Department of Interior oversight. More than 581,887 acres of conservation, wilderness areas and other protected areas has been designated, and 18,170 acres of land will be held in trust for both the Walker River Paiute and Fallon Paiute Shoshone tribes.

The agreement will also allow Churchill and Lander counties to access additional land for economic growth.

Drew said Bravo 16 southeast of Fallon is used for SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land Teams) training.

“The western boundary is now the interstate power line,” Drew said. “There is an authorization to put another line on the eastern side if needed.”

Drew added the Sand Canyon and Red Mountain roads will be closed. There is also a designation for the proposed Interstate 11 which would run through Bravo 16.

The Bravo 17 range about 30 miles east of Fallon will be able to expand east of the Rawhide Road. Drew said big game hunting will be allowed at Slade Mountain and in the Monte Cristo Range during a 15-day window. From a cultural standpoint, Drew said the area will also be important for the bighorn sheep.

“The Navy is relinquishing 23 acres around the existing wells and corrals off the Rawhide Road,” Drew said. “There’s no impact. They (rancher and other users) will operate without interference of the Navy which is nice going forward.”

Bravo 20 north of the Fallon National Wildlife Refuge and near the Churchill and Pershing counties line will see a reduction in size for the weapons danger zone. He said there’s a potential reroute of the Pole Line Road, but the road can’t be closed until the reroute is finished.

“The Fallon National Wildlife Refuge is not impacted,” Drew said.

The Dixie Valley Training Area (DVTA) extends north of U.S. Highway 50 to the southern tip of the Stillwater Range. Drew said the DVTA will not be used for live ordnance. Bravo 19 35 miles south of Fallon will basically see little change.

Drew said there will be no new mines in the Dixie Valley, and that will affect the Hercules area and east side of the valley.

“The land will continue to be managed by the BLM under the Federal Land Policy Act in consultation with the Navy,” Drew said, adding the Navy and Interior Department will allow water and utility infrastructure.

He said the land withdrawal will not interfere with the project.

Drew said there’s also a new conservation area around the existing Grimes Point east of Fallon. There are two subunits to the conservation area. He said the Wilderness Study Area (WSA) boundary has been pulled off the Dixie and East County roads. Three news WSAs, according to Drew, are being designated for the Desatoya, Clan Alpine and Augusta mountains.

“The eastern half of the Dixie Valley Training Area is overlapped as well as a portion of Highway 50 along the Fairview Peak,” Drew said.

Another key sticking point to the FRTC involved the checkerboard pattern of land. The checkerboard pattern alternates full sections of land each consisting of 640 acres. He said more work is needed to eliminate areas that have the checkerboard pattern.

Churchill County will convey 86 acres of land to the Bureau of Land Management in front of Sand Mountain.

“It makes a lot of sense since they manage it,” Drew said.

In the northwestern part of Churchill County, he said the county will work with the Department of Interior to “square up” the management of the area.

Overall, he said private land owners will be compensated.

Another provision of the FRTC calls for the wildlife management to be under the auspices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and for a plan — both wildlife and fire management — to be a collaborative effort with the State of Nevada and the county.

Although the process to approve the FRTC has taken six years, Drew said more work remains.

“The Navy cannot train in the expanded areas until all mitigation is complete,” Drew said. “They can still phase this if they (Navy) gets all their mitigation done for Bravo 16. They training in the expanded area.”

Drew, however, said all road realignments must be completed before Navy training occurs in the expanded area.

The Walker River Paiute Tribe will receive two sections of land near Hazen, midway between Fallon and Fernley. Drew said it will be known as the Fernley east parcel. The tribe’s reservoir will extend to 8,000 acres in the northeast corner of Walker Lake.

Drew said $20 million will be used to establish and operate a new cultural heritage center.

Commission Chairman Pete Olsen thanked Drew for his years of work on the project.

“This man has worked so tirelessly for us,” Olsen said.

Olsen said Drew has been the “boots on the ground” and has driven all the roads in the proposed and current training areas and has studied the maps. Olsen said Drew helped tremendously in dealing with the federal government.

“The Navy is our neighbors, but I felt we held our own against the Navy,” Olsen said.

During the entire process, Olsen said it was inevitable the Navy would gain land for training, but he said it was important for the county to work with the Navy to forge a plan acceptable to both sides.

Several tribal members spoke to the commission expressing concerns about the expansion and hoping the county continues to work with the tribal governments as the expansion moves forward.

“(Senator) Catherine Cortez Masto always asked the commission, ‘Have you worked with the tribes?’” Commissioner Bus Scharmann replied.

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Steve Ranson
Steve Ranson
Steve Ranson is Editor Emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News.

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