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Q&A with Boyd Ratliff

Boyd Ratliff is the district engineer for Nevada Department of Transportation District 3 covering the Elko area. He has worked for the department for eight years, climbing from a position as district support engineer to his new position in June. He replaced Kevin Lee, who retired after about 14 years.

Before joining NDOT, Ratliff, a professional engineer, worked as a geotechnical and engineering manager for other companies. He has a bachelor’s degree in geology from Idaho State University and family ties to northeastern Nevada dating to the 1800s.

In this question-and-answer session, Ratliff discusses the department’s upcoming priorities and roadway issues affecting the Elko community.

Tell me about your work with NDOT.

District 3 is the district I am essentially the administrator for, and that district is actually just a little bit larger than Tennessee. Obviously sparsely pop, very rural. We maintain the existing state highways whether it be summertime projects to preserve pavements as well as plowing snow in wintertime. We also deal with right-of-way and access, and permitting encroachment issue with adjacent entities or utilities or private individuals.

What’s your role in that process?

As administrator, I have three assistant district engineers, one in Winnemucca, Elko and Ely. They each have with maintenance crews, maintenance forces that are assigned to the various segments of highway and they are basically year-round employees that are providing traffic control at accidents, doing the snow plowing, cleaning culvert pipes, shoulder work, striping, replacing signs — everything to keep the highway system intact. Along with that, the assistant district engineers also supervise construction crews. The district has four. Now, those construction crews are not contractor-type individuals; they are the inspectors, engineers and surveyors that are with contractors to ensure the quantities and the plans for all the work they’re doing are being met. They also administer the payments for those workers.

What are some of the top priority projects for District 3 coming up?

Our main priorities are ADA and pedestrian safety. We have a project going on right here in Elko. We have a project for crosswalk in Jackpot. We have various other ADA projects slated for upcoming years, as they’re being scoped. Every year, we do probably 200 to 300 miles of chip sealing… . We also have storm water projects that are also a priority, as well, whether that be infrastructure improvement, maintenance, sometimes replacement, and of course, cleaning of culverts and best management practices to reduce discharges from runoff.

How did you choose engineering as a field of study?

Maybe a natural affinity to const projects, building things. I had a lot of construction jobs when I was a kid in high school and college. The degree in geology was driven by enjoying the outdoors and being outside. I did not work in that field, so I parlayed that into the geotechnical engineering and geotechnical work, which is half in the field and half in the office and also related to construction.

What’s something you like about your job?

The thing I really, really hold high is we do projects and make improvements to our state highway system that are safety-related projects and we’ve been able to have direct impact to the motoring public’s safety. One of the first projects I worked on when I came here was a shoulder-flattening project near Spruce Mountain. It was about a 2-mile stretch, and it was the second deadliest stretch of rural highway in Nevada. Lots of fatals. Looking at the crash data prior to that project and afterwards, there is a very distinct line of demarcation between accidents that result in fatals and just accidents that are either minor injury or no injury. Little minor things that seem innocuous like that that maybe no one else sees are the things I really, really like.

How do you figure out which roads to chip seal?

We rank every road based on the aging of and condition of the pavement, and the functional classification of those roadways. … U.S. routes and state routes take priority. They are on a cycle. For any pavement that we put down initially on a U.S. route or a state route, we’re going to put down what call a wearing course …. Those chips seals should give us about a 10 year lifespan preserving that pavement during which time, we would chip seal it again to give us another 7 to 10 years. Then ideally, based on the design of the pavement, its use and how well it’s weathered, we’ll get another 7 to10 years out of a chip seal on top of it. It takes that initial investment on that pavement for a lower dollar to extend that to about two to three times its actual intended lifespan.

What was the consequence of the fuel tax ballot measure failing in the general election?

It was fuel indexing, and basically it tried to balance inflation of construction materials and projects with what taxes were being collected. … The indexing is supposed to help balance those costs because fuel taxes have remained the same for years. Federal fuel taxes have not changed since ’93. For over 20 years we’ve had the same federal tax. State taxes have stayed relatively flat (they have raised some), but the cost of construction projects on streets and highways has increased and fuel indexing would have been a way to get more funding for cities, counties and NDOT.

Spring Creek is having an issue gathering funding to maintain the roads in its area. Is NDOT involved or is there any service or funding that goes in from NDOT?

Spring Creek is private. If they were public, there are avenues. We have transportation alternative programs and local public advocacy programs that are conduits of federal funding to cities and counties and RTCs. It’s a perfect example of what I was describing about inflation costs. They had fees to cover the costs of their roads. As the users went up, they also increased the number of people paying fees; however, the construction costs are outgaining what they were bringing in for resources. They could just charge everyone an arm and a leg for their streets out there, but they would get shot down. They are struggling with all the things any road department does but without the funding.

What do you personally hope to accomplish through your position?

I want to continue the direction we’ve been going with safety improvements across district, across the state. I’d like to improve on efficiencies that I mentioned and do the best I can for all the different stakeholders. We’re friends and relatives with every industry in the region — from law enforcement, fire, mining, construction and ranching — making sure all those stakeholders get their needs met by our highway system is important to me.

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Living Stones donates to third-graders

ELKO – Third-graders at Grammar No. 2 got a surprise donation of 10 Chromebooks from Living Stones Church.

The children received the donation after their teacher, Shellie Griggs, went to seeking six Chromebooks for her students to use for reading and math practice.

Griggs’ class shares a cart of Chromebooks for a week with other third-grade classrooms, but she hoped to eventually have 22 for her class so that the cart could stay longer in the other classrooms.

Griggs shared the need on Facebook, where Pastor Nathan Hornback of Living Stones read it.

“He called me and said, ‘What if we made a straight donation of 10 Chromebooks?’” Griggs recalled.

Hornback said that after talking to Griggs, he “heard how much she loves her kids.”

The donation is part of the church’s mission statement “in the city for the city,” said Hornback, stressing that the donation came from the church, not him.

“It’s the 500 people at Living Stones [and] because they’re faithful,” Hornback said.

Cottonwood fire grows to 6,000 acres

ELKO – A lightning-sparked fire has grown to more than 6,000 acres near Cottonwood Canyon south of Crescent Valley.

The Cottonwood Fire was first reported around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and was estimated to have consumed 500 acres by morning.

Steep terrain has made the fire difficult to contain. Four helicopters and eight heavy air tankers were on the scene as of Wednesday afternoon along with several dozers that are working to create a line around the fire.

There are more than 50 firefights at the scene including personnel from the BLM, Nevada Division of Forestry, Elko County Fire Protection District and volunteer firefighter units.

Firefighters hope to have the blaze contained by Friday.

Greg Deimel, BLM public affairs officer, said the attack on the fire will have to be carried out from the air for now.

“I heard this morning that one road into the fire was pretty bad. We can bring a grater or a dozer in to fix the road, but there aren’t many roads down there to start with,” he said. “Eight air tankers and four helicopters is a lot of air assets. For a fire that’s inaccessible, air assets are whats going to do most of the work.”

Deimel also noted that people need to be careful with their campfires, where they are allowed, over the next couple of months as conditions are still dry.

“Fire season won’t be over until we get significant rain or snow, and we may get snow before we get rain at this point,” he said.

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$39,120 generated in BLM oil and gas lease

RENO – In keeping with the administration’s goal of strengthening America’s energy independence, the Bureau of Land Management received bids on oil and gas leases in Nevada that brought in $39,120 in an online auction held yesterday.

Three parcels in Nye County, encompassing approximately 3,680 acres in the Battle Mountain District, were offered during the September quarterly oil and gas lease sale. Bids were received on all three parcels, totaling all 3,680 acres offered.

Federal Abstract Company of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was the highest bidder, paying $9 per acre for all three parcels.

Making parcels available in quarterly oil and gas lease sales is one way the BLM supports the America First Energy Plan, which allows the free market system to determine if energy development on public lands is feasible.

“By providing opportunities for energy development, the BLM is supporting job creation and the economy of local communities,” said Marci Todd, acting BLM Nevada state director.

BLM oil and gas leases are awarded for a period of 10 years and for as long thereafter as there is production in paying quantities. The revenue from the sale of federal leases, as well as the 12.5 percent royalties collected from the production of those leases, is shared between the federal government and the states.

The state of Nevada receives 49 percent of the proceeds of each lease sale. In fiscal year 2016, Nevada received approximately $1.4 million from royalties, rentals and bonus bid payments for oil and gas. Statewide, more than 26,000 jobs are tied to mineral and energy development on BLM-managed public lands. The previous Battle Mountain District sale was held on June 13. That sale generated $38,560, selling three parcels covering approximately 5,760 acres, through competitive and noncompetitive sales.

Potential environmental effects that could result from exploration and development are analyzed before any leases are offered for sale. All leases come with conditions on oil and gas activities to protect the environment that can include limits on when drilling can occur or restrictions on surface occupancy.

Once an operator proposes exploration or development on a BLM-issued lease, further environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act is conducted to determine the site-specific need for various types of impact-limiting or mitigation measures. In addition, many operators routinely use Best Management Practices such as remote monitoring of producing wells and multiple wells per pad to minimize surface impacts.

Online oil and gas lease sales streamline the bidding process and allow the BLM to serve the public better and faster. These lease sales strengthen domestic energy production and contribute to the country’s energy independence.

The next oil and gas sale for Nevada is scheduled for the week of Dec. 12.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In fiscal year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

Toni Milano / Toni R. Milano 

A framed rubbing of a Basque tree carving is part of "Mountain Picassos: Basque Arborglyphs of the Great Basin" on display at the Great Basin College Art Gallery in the Leonard Center for Student Life. The exhibit explores Basque tree carvings created by sheepherders in the first half of the 20th century.