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Protecting the Ruby Mountains

ELKO — Conservation groups are planning to meet in Elko to inform the public about the progress of an oil leasing and fracking proposal in the Ruby Mountains and elsewhere in the state.

Organizers want to receive input from Nevadans about their vision for the iconic mountain range and other landscapes, according to an announcement from Trout Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation.

The meeting is set for 6-8 p.m. Jan. 17 at Dalling Hall.

The Forest Service was poised to issue its draft decision on the leasing but has been delayed by the federal government shutdown.

The groups pointed out that the Rubies are widely known for their abundant wildlife, including Nevada’s largest mule deer herd; priority sage-grouse habitat; and streams teeming with trout, as well as exceptional scenic, recreational and indigenous cultural values.

“For those of us that enjoy the views of and the outdoor experiences in our ‘home’ range, this should be an alarm-bell,” said Justin French, a sportsman from Elko. “We should all agree that it is better to answer the call for input and have our voices heard as to our desires for this special place than to sit back and regret its degradation.”

Pam Harrington of Trout Unlimited cited a specific example of why people should become informed and provide their thoughts.

“The Ruby Mountains are one of the best places in Nevada to improve populations of our state fish, the Lahontan cutthroat trout. There isn’t a close second,” Harrington said.

“Drilling for oil in the Ruby Mountains is an extremely foolish and impractical idea that would further the climate crisis that we are experiencing, while destroying some of the most beautiful land that our nation has to offer,” said Rebekah Stetson with the National Wildlife Federation. “We have the greatest potential for solar energy of anywhere in the United States and this type of renewable option is where our efforts should be focused.”

The proposal to lease the Rubies to oil companies has been met with significant resistance. The Forest Service received more than 13,000 comments in opposition. Elected officials such as U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto have spoken out against leasing the Ruby Mountains.

In its third week, government shutdown poses challenges for tribes, fire managers

Near the small central Nevada town of Austin, the Yomba Shoshone tribe sits on 4,700 acres of land. Its revenue for all of its municipal services comes from one place: Washington, D.C.

Since the federal shutdown began, many of those services have come to a halt. With funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs frozen, tribal administrator Andrew Perera said the tribe was required to furlough its employees, leaving several tribal members without a paycheck.

“We are representative of what the rural, smaller tribes have to deal with,” Perera said. “We don’t have a casino. We don’t have the ability to set dollars aside for a rainy day.”

Many members of the community have continued to work as volunteers. The chief of the tribal police and several officers are still reporting to work, and the tribe is dipping into reserved funds to test water quality. But each new day of the shutdown places more strain on the tribe.

“We don’t have the ability to do that forever,” he said.

Now in its third week, the partial federal shutdown has left more than 3,000 Nevadans out of work — the large majority of them working for the Department of Interior — and many more federal contractors. In a state containing more than 85 percent federal land, its impacts have often been dispersed and localized. As the shutdown drags on with little end in sight, its impacts could become more apparent, affecting everything from wildfire management to road repairs.

As of Wednesday morning, 154 individuals had filed state unemployment claims, according to the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. Thousands of federal workers are eligible to file, and that number could rise as employees miss their first paycheck on Friday.

Federal employees are not the only ones feeling the shutdown’s impacts. Janet Reeves, who runs Nevada Urban Indians Inc., said her Reno-based health clinic receives about 70 percent of its funding from the federal government. Since the shutdown began, Reeves has had to cut her employees back from four days to three days. If it continues, she said she will have to cut more days. The rest of her funding, for the most part, comes from the state, which disburses federal grants. She said that revenue could also start drying up in a few weeks due to the shutdown.

“I listened to the speech yesterday that the president did — and I do listen to the news,” Reeves said. “This is not just about the [national] parks. It’s affecting a lot of programs.”

President Donald Trump addressed the shutdown last night during an Oval Office address in which he continued to push for a wall along the Mexican border. Trump reportedly stormed out of a meeting on Wednesday with congressional Democrats who have refused to include $5.7 billion dollars for the concrete barrier, calling it immoral. He called the meeting a “waste of time.”

Meanwhile, on the 20th day of the federal shutdown, about 3,500 federal employees in Nevada continue to go without work and federal agencies have stopped important work across the state.

Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the Department of Interior, which manages a large chunk of the 85 percent of federal land dispersed across the state. According to estimates from the Center for American Progress, of the roughly 3,450 federal employees who have been furloughed, nearly one-third — 2,090 workers — have some role in the Interior Department. The progressive think-tank used Office of Personnel Management data to compile the estimates.

In addition to affecting nonprofit contractors and recreation, the timing of the shutdown has slowed large-scale efforts to help rural communities recover from massive wildfires last year.

Two massive fires that swept through the Great Basin in 2018 burned more than one million acres of public land used for grazing, hunting and recreation that supports rural economies. To preserve the land and avoid future fires, which are often fueled by flammable invasive grasses, the state planned to reseed the burned areas this winter with help from the federal government.

Ecologists stress the importance of reseeding in the winter when there is moisture and some snow cover on the ground. Reseeding has already been a challenging task because there is a lack of seed and it can be difficult to wrangle the equipment or funding to do the reseeding.

The shutdown has added another layer to these challenges.

“In order to get ahead of annual invasive species and to capitalize on weather, it is critical to implement rehabilitation treatments when the environmental factors allow,” Kacey KC, the state’s firewarden wrote in an email. “If the window of the first fall/winter following the fire is missed, it could be a full year before those conditions exist again. This allows time for invasive flashy fuels to take hold causing annual fire cycles, thus nullifying the effort in the future.”

Although state agencies have continued to seed in some cases, the shutdown has imposed challenges in a state where most of the burned land is managed by the federal government. Rep. Mark Amodei called the Interior Department’s record of managing shutdowns “awful.”

“When management at the Department of Interior doesn’t think Nevada district managers or the new state director are key personnel to the [Bureau of Land Management’s] existence and management of more than 67 percent of the land mass in Nevada – then you can imagine the lack of concern about daily operations for fire restoration and other matters,” Amodei said in a statement on Tuesday. “Which is why, shutdowns don’t work, and [the Interior Department’s] track-record of managing them is awful.”

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Amodei said last week that blame for the shutdown rested with Democratic leadership for not funding the wall.

Across the country and in Nevada, the shutdown is adding to an existing backlog in immigration courts and making it more difficult for farmers to apply for federal assistance or loans. If the shutdown continues, it could affect grant funding that the state receives for transportation.

The Nevada Department of Transportation, which received about $380 million in federal funding last year, said that apart from some delays in reimbursements, their projects are continuing to move forward. The state agency said that it received commitments for first-quarter funding before the shutdown. But a long-term shutdown would have consequential impacts on the state agency, according to a fact sheet that was first reported by the Nevada Appeal.

“Longer-term federal funding lapses or insecurity could threaten many Nevada road projects with either having to be delayed or cancelled,” the fact sheet said. “To not receive the nearly half of Nevada transportation funding which comes from federal funds could be devastating to our ability to provide for Nevada transportation needs, including the rehabilitation of rural roads.”

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Water line request delays action on veterans cemetery

ELKO – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is making new requests to the city for a veterans’ cemetery, so Elko City Council will take up the latest proposal at its Jan. 22 meeting.

Utilities Director Ryan Limberg told the council he prepared the agenda item last week for the Jan. council meeting before the VA changed its requests to the city to provide water for the cemetery. A new line and lift station will be needed because the site is at a higher elevation that the city’s water tanks.

The VA is proposing development of a national cemetery for veterans on 15 acres near the Adobe Middle School at Cattle Drive and Western Way on land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which would transfer the land to the VA.

Mike Musgrove of Spring Creek, a Veterans of Foreign Wars member, said he would “encourage the city to look at this hard and get more people here” for the Jan. 22 meeting.

“We’ve been trying to get something here for a long time,” he said, adding that after earlier efforts, the VA has agreed to work with BLM for the land transfer, and he understands the BLM has completed due diligence for the action.

The VA’s proposal had been to fund the design and construction of a dedicated 4-inch waterline and booster pump station to handle 200 gallons per minute, with the city agreeing after construction to maintain the line. The VA also asked the city to waive any water connection fees, citing positive benefits to the community.

Under the proposal that was to be considered at the Jan. 8 meeting, the city also would charge the VA 1.5 times the city rate for water because the site is outside city limits.

Limberg said the VA is now asking that the city allow the VA to pay the city water rate, and that the city design and construct the water line with the VA reimbursing “subject to appropriation limitations.”

Councilwoman Mandy Simons asked city staff to find out more on the appropriations limitations question to determine if there is any risk to the city.

“We will certainly look into it. This is more challenging with the new requests,” City Manager Curtis Calder said.

Councilman Bill Hance questioned whether the cemetery would have a water meter, and Limberg said he would recommend metering. The cemetery would only use water in warm weather.

Former Sen. Dean Heller, R-Wyo., proposed a bill last year that called for the BLM to transfer land near Elko to the VA for the national cemetery. The bill came up at the February 2018 meeting of Elko County Commissioners, at which time they supported the idea but had concerns about who pays for the cemetery upkeep.

The selected site is in the county and would be on federal land, but the city would provide the water.

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Former Barrick president to lead Nevada business, industry department

Michael Brown has been named director of the Department of Business & Industry in Gov. Steve Sisolak’s administration.

Brown recently retired from his position as president of Barrick U.S.A., the American subsidiary of the world’s largest gold mining company.

“Michael Brown knows Nevada and understands better than anyone what goes into the development and growth of our economy,” Sisolak said. “With Michael’s successful business background and his decades of work in government and the community, I’m excited to have him at the helm of our Department of Business & Industry.”

Brown began his 24-year career at Barrick Gold Corp. in 1994 as vice president of U.S. public affairs before being named president in 2016. Prior, Brown served for eight years at the U.S. Department of the Treasury during in the Reagan Administration followed by six years as vice president of government affairs at the Gold Institute in Washington, D.C.

Brown was later appointed by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid to serve on the U.S. Mint’s Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. He also spent three years on the staff of the Ohio House of Representatives.

Brown served as a member of numerous business and philanthropic boards and committees, including as the founder of the Nevada Corporate Giving Council, a group dedicated to improving the practice of corporate philanthropy in Nevada. He has also served on the board and executive committee of the National Mining Association and is a past chairman of the Nevada Mining Association.

In 2014, Brown served on the Nevada legislature’s Interim Study Committee on Community Colleges. He currently serves as a board member on the Council for a Better Nevada, Clark County Public Education Foundation, and the Nevada Ballet Theater.