ELKO — Release the lands.
That is the message Elko County sends to Congress with the commissioners’ adoption of a resolution that encourages removing the designation of certain lands as wilderness study areas. Passed Jan. 17, the resolution asks Sen. Dean Heller to raise the issue to Congress.
“Yesterday, the Elko County Commission unanimously passed a resolution supporting a legislative fix to this public lands issue, and I plan to work on legislation that would do just that,” Heller said.
The resolution states that the Bureau of Land Management “arbitrarily designated” the lands “without appropriate public input or reasonable federal guidelines.”
Nevada has 62 wilderness study areas totaling more than 2.55 million acres, including 10 sites covering 272,422 acres in Elko County, according to the BLM.
Wilderness study areas came into existence across the West after Congress directed the BLM to determine which public lands had wilderness characteristics as defined by the 1964 Wilderness Act.
Criteria considered in a 1979 initial wilderness review were size, naturalness, remoteness and opportunities for primitive recreation, and public input was documented and factored in according to the requirements of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, said Mike Setlock, Elko District BLM outdoor recreation planner and wilderness specialist.
“There was nothing arbitrary about it,” he said.
In 1991, the federal government declared which areas achieved final wilderness declaration, but no BLM-managed wilderness areas were designated in the Elko district, Setlock said. Additionally, a report that same year found that 113,294 acres of the Elko district’s wilderness study areas did not meet the criteria.
“I don’t think that any study has ever been conducted in the 26 years since and no plan in place for future study,” said Commissioner Rex Steninger. “In my opinion, it’s pretty apparent that people have used this wilderness study area of getting wilderness without going through the proper process.”
Wilderness study areas carry restrictions on land use, such prohibiting motorized cross-country travel. The BLM monitors the sites to make sure they stay in “suitable shape if Congress ever decides,” Setlock said. They remain in limbo until Congress orders a study to determine whether or not those areas are worthy of final wilderness designation
“Although not designated by Congress as wilderness, these areas are treated as such by the BLM — essentially locking up 2.5 million acres of our public lands,” Heller said. “Even worse — the BLM has found that a good portion of these lands do not even meet the criteria for wilderness.”
Greg Deimel, BLM public affairs officer for the Elko District office, said that there are a couple of wilderness study areas included in the 1991 report that are not suitable to retain as wilderness study areas, “and we think that’s fair,” he said. However, he explained that there also are some areas that deserve the designation.
The resolution asks for the release of all 10 wilderness study areas in Elko County, and the commissioners added that they hope other governing bodies across the state and West will encourage the same action to “protect access for all Americans.”
Elko City Council voted on first reading Tuesday to zone against marijuana sales in the city but shot down a proposed four-year moratorium on sales despite pleas from Councilman John Patrick Rice.
“This is a terrific compromise opportunity,” Rice said in support of the resolution placing the moratorium on both medical and recreational marijuana establishments. “This will satisfy every single concern you have for the next four years.”
Only Rice voted for the moratorium, and he was the only vote against the change in the ordinance that must still come back for a public hearing and second reading for passage. The current moratorium on medical marijuana expires in March.
Councilman Robert Schmidtlein seconded the motion on the moratorium at Rice’s urging so there could be discussion, but he said he “is done with this. We have gone over and over this.”
Mayor Chris Johnson said he is against marijuana sales and believes his constituents oppose sales. He said an ordinance can be overturned after two readings so the moratorium doesn’t make it that much easier for a future council to change its mind on marijuana.
“I don’t feel I am swimming upstream,” he said.
The major also said the Nevada Legislature gave cities the power through zoning to block marijuana sales, although the state legalized marijuana.
When the amendment to the zoning ordinance was first proposed, the council kicked it over to the Elko Planning Commission for a recommendation, and that panel felt the ordinance wasn’t needed because the city’s regulations for business licenses prohibit businesses that are contrary to federal law.
The council decided on Jan. 9 to reject that recommendation and start the ordinance process.
Rice also tried before the vote on amending the ordinance to table the action until October. He said that would give the council time to measure public opinion and to know what the federal government might do.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently said he was leaving decisions to U.S. attorneys in each state, and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R- Nevada, also recently said he would urge Congress to pass legislation on marijuana.
No one seconded Rice’s motion for delay. Rice, who was re-elected mayor pro tempore later at the Tuesday meeting, didn’t say why he picked the month of October.
In his push for the moratorium, he also said it would “let nearly half the community have some hope,” referring to the 49 percent of Elko voters who favored legalizing marijuana in the statewide referendum in 2016.
Public comment by a handful of people on the marijuana issue at Tuesday’s meeting was mainly against the sale of marijuana, and two emails read at the meeting favored the ordinance against marijuana sales because of concerns about crime and drug use.
Remarks also included another angle brought up by Laura Oslund, director of the PACE Coalition, who outlined environmental concerns about cultivating marijuana. These included higher power usage, the use of fertilizer and other chemicals, water usage and the mounds of waste, if plants can’t be composted.
“Marijuana takes large amounts of water to grow,” said Oslund.
Gratton Miller, who told the Elko Daily Saturday he wants to run for city council, was critical of the council, however, on the marijuana issue at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I think you are wholly uneducated” on marijuana, he said.
Miller had questions for Police Chief Ben Reed, who said in response that growers of plants for medical use don’t check with his office so he doesn’t know how many there are in the city, and that Elko is small enough so he knows there are no gangs or cartels growing marijuana in the city.
ELKO – Student Resource Officer Aaron Hildreth said he is living the best of both worlds.
Hildreth, who was recently recognized as 2017 Officer of the Year by the Elko Police Department, thought of becoming either a teacher or a police officer when he graduated from Spring Creek High School.
Now, he gets to do both.
Hildreth was selected by the Elko Police Department Awards Committee for the honor, but he thinks the recognition is lopsided.
“It’s unfair that I’m rewarded for coming to work when it’s already a rewarding job,” Hildreth said.
Hildreth’s enthusiasm for his job was noticed by the awards committee. Lt. Michael Palhegyi said he “completes his SRO assignment with professionalism, genuine care and concern for local children while instituting community-policing concepts.”
“He was recognized by peers and school officials for his positive demeanor,” Palhegyi continued. “He enthusiastically serves as a positive role model for our local youth.”
Hildreth also works “outside the scope of his SRO duties” Palhegyi said, by participating in local sports programs and volunteering with overtime assignments.
Hildreth said the pull of being a “big city cop” led him to San Diego after graduation, where he worked for a few years before deciding he wanted to return to Elko.
Because of car chases and shootings, San Diego “was not my idea of where I wanted to raise a family,” he said. He returned to Elko and joined the police department.
In 2015, when the SRO was created, Hildreth joined the program. It includes two city police officers, two Elko County Sheriff’s deputies and a supervisor. At the time, the program was so new Hildreth said he remembered he was unsure if it would be right for him.
“I wasn’t sure about it, being a kiddie cop,” Hildreth said. “I didn’t know what I was getting into. What if I didn’t like it?”
But something changed, Hildreth said.
“Funny how life does this to you … changes you. When I started I was at a different point in my life.”
He said he discovered working as an SRO was “a multi-role position.” Mentoring, counseling and teaching youth meant shifting his mind away from patrol work to saving teens and keeping them from going to jail.
“[Patrol work] is not what we’re about,” Hildreth said, but law enforcement is “a small part of what we do” as the SROs deals with drugs, alcohol and truancy matters.
When the SRO started, students were wary of their presence on campus at first, Hildreth said.
“The kids watched us from the corner of their eye,” Hildreth remembered. “Now it’s different.”
“We go to all the schools in the county and some officers choose certain schools to visit,” Hildreth said. The school on his beat is Adobe Middle School.
“I know the kids from spending time there,” Hildreth said. “They’re more friendly when they’re younger and a lot of them got to know me.”
Former students at Adobe who are now at Elko High School walk up to Hildreth and talk to him when they see him, he said.
“We joke and fist bump,” Hildreth said. “They know I’m not there to take them to jail. I’m going to work with them and keep them out of jail.”
“The SRO program is about changing that situation,” Hildreth said.
Overall, the SRO’s goal is to improve youth and teens’ relations with law enforcement, Hildreth said. The hope is that as the students grow up and move away, they’ll take positive memories of police officers with them.
“If [former students] meet people who have negative ideas about the police, they will remember the officers in Elko who played volleyball and basketball with them and kept them from getting suspended.”
The communication and relationship building is important for children who come from homes where there is a distrust of police officers, Hildreth added.
For someone to have the opportunity to merge two career paths into one may be uncommon, but Hildreth said he sees it as a double dream come true.
“I feel so blessed coming to work. I have the best of both worlds, to be a police officer and work with kids. It’s so rewarding for me.”
ELKO – A Lamoille man was jailed on a quarter-million dollars bail Monday on charges of lewdness with a child under 14 and statutory sexual seduction.
Joseph C. Sustacha, 27, was arrested at the Shell gas station on Spring Creek Parkway after being interviewed by two school resource officers, according to Undersheriff Ron Supp.
“They were talking to him about allegations of lewdness with a minor, and in that conversation he admitted to sending pornographic materials to this person and receiving some from this young girl” Supp said.
He also reportedly admitted to having sex with the girl, who is now 15 years old, Supp said.
Sustacha was also arrested for a probation violation. His bail was set at $252,500.
According to Elko Daily Free Press records, Sustacha was bound over to district court in April on one count of battery on a protected person, one count of unlawful use of emergency telephone number, and one count of intimidating a public officer with immediate threat or use of physical force.
He was also arrested in May for disturbing the peace.
Sustacha was sentenced to prison in April 2014 for drunken driving causing substantial bodily harm.