Some say BLM mishandled permitting of off-road race

An off-road race from the outskirts of Beatty to Reno last year has some residents and environmentalists wondering whether public lands officials mishandled the permitting process.

They say the race resulted in harm to the landscape and areas along a river bed where the sensitive Amargosa toad lives.

Their concern stems from a former Bureau of Land Management recreation planner at the agency's Tonopah office who alerted a watchdog group that federal permitting guidelines for the race were violated.

The former planner, Stacey Antilla, resigned in February, about six months after the Vegas-to-Reno race because of "on-the-job stress and harassment," Daniel R. Patterson, Southwest director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility wrote in a May 17 letter to BLM Director Bob Abbey.

Patterson called for the public lands agency's national office to investigate "and take strong action to stop and correct these legal and policy violations relating to resource protection."

At issue, Antilla said, was the location of a staging area for trucks and trailers that drew traffic across the toad's habitat along the Amargosa River and a separate incident in January that raised questions about how cultural resources are handled at the Rhyolite ghost town.

In an interview Wednesday, Antilla said she was told by Tom Seley, Tonopah field office manager, to violate the National Environmental Policy Act process "and not do them (the permits) the right way" when it came to processing the paperwork for the August 2009 race.

In one instance involving protective culverts for the toad, "I was told to take that out of the environmental assessment," Antilla, 38, said.

"I think the BLM as an agency needs to look into the way the Nevada state office follows policies and procedures," she said in a telephone interview from Dallas.

BLM officials in Nevada discounted the accuracy of her claims.

BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington at the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters, said the BLM has just received the environmental group's letter and has not yet responded.

But Boddington wrote in an e-mail: "No investigation is necessary because the BLM took all appropriate actions in this case."

Boddington said biological surveys were completed and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was consulted.

Beatty resident Laura Cunningham, who lives near the race course, said the staging area caused race traffic to cross the riverbed in Amargosa toad habitat.

"I'm a bit surprised BLM let them do that," she said.

According to the BLM, Seley was overseeing preparation of the environmental assessment before Antilla joined the Tonopah field office .

Another issue raised in PEER's letter was cultural conservation at the Rhyolite ghost town.

Antilla alleged that a possible skeletal bone was removed from the Rhyolite ghost town and given to a tourist by a volunteer. Boddington said the presumed remains "were from a plastic skeleton."