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Push for trail a lesson in government inefficiency

The following is a quick lesson on why relatively simple things in government often don’t get done, even after lengthy delays and a bevy of excuses have run their course, leaving nothing but frustration on the part of an otherwise-unsuspecting public.

On Sept. 20, 2016, two avid hikers from Summerlin submitted a 12-page proposal to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management detailing how a new connector trail for hikers, between the entrance and exit of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, could benefit many hundreds of equally enthusiastic hikers and how it could be accomplished at no cost to BLM.

The proposal went on to outline how the trail also could be expanded for mountain biker and equestrian use.

Hitting on the most important element, it then said a draft environmental assessment (EA) had been done by BLM in 2011, presumably clearing the way for such a project.

The proposal was a reminder that five years later, BLM was still awaiting the necessary federal funding. It explained that “the project is ‘shelf-ready’ and awaiting funding. However, funding has not become available since the EA was completed and does not appear to be forthcoming in the foreseeable future.”

In their comprehensive outline, which has now lain dormant in some bureaucratic maze for almost 14 months, Brian Dodd and Laurence F. Dunn Jr., co-authors of the proposal, explained to BLM officials how the estimated 2.5-mile trail could be created at little or no cost to the feds.

“The estimated cost for a hiking-only trail, $1,000. The estimated cost for a hiking and equestrian trail, $2,200,” the proposal stated, after citing all the necessary work details involved.

Dodd was a professor of nuclear engineering at Oregon State University for 20 years before he retired to Sun City, and Dunn was a land developer prior to his retirement to Red Rock Country Club. In interviews they said that several hiking clubs in and around Summerlin would be among the prime beneficiaries of such a trail.

“I’m a member of Lone Mountain Hiking Club,” Dodd said. “We have about 130 members. There’s also the Sun City Hiking Club and Around the Bend Friends. In addition, we’re supported by the Back Country Horsemen of Nevada. In all, I would say there’s close to 300 interested parties, just from those clubs.”

Emphasizing the belief that the money for constructing the trail could be obtained from donors, the two men said in their proposal that, if necessary, they would personally pay the bill “for the hiker-only option.”

Their proposal went on: “The proposed trail can be constructed at no cost to the BLM, other than staff time associated with approval, basic training and supervision. All that is needed to make this happen is for the BLM to approve the project.”

Dunn and Dodd have since reaffirmed the same offer. To this day, they have received no direct reply.

So what’s the holdup? After all, one week after the proposal was sent, Catrina Williams, field manager at BLM’s Red Rock/Sloan field office, acknowledged receipt of it in an email to Dodd that added, “I do plan to look over the proposal soon, along with my planners and will reach out to you soon to discuss.”

Exactly four months later, after hearing nothing further, Dodd again emailed Williams. “I was able to review the proposal and was really impressed … Very nice!” she replied, adding that she forwarded it to Assistant Field Manager Brittany Brooks “to discuss prioritizing” any new trails.

Then, not a word. On April 22 Dodd emailed Williams, “I hate to nag, but it’s now been three months since you said Brittany would contact me and she has not yet done so.”

Dodd contacted me early in May and emailed a copy of the proposal. Shortly afterward he and I met, and I called Williams, then Brooks. Neither would discuss the proposal but directed me to John Asselin, a BLM public-affairs spokesman. I expressed my interest in the proposal to Asselin, and soon afterward a series of meetings was initiated by Williams, Brooks and other BLM personnel with Dodd, Dunn and other interested people.

Dodd and Dunn met several times during the summer with BLM people and lots of discussion ensued, mostly of a bureaucratic nature. Meanwhile, I called Asselin on numerous occasions, and the response again was typically bureaucratic in nature — that the parties were talking about how to move ahead with the proposal.

After all their meetings, Dodd, Dunn and numerous other interested hikers were left wondering where they stand regarding the proposal.

The last time I spoke to Asselin was Sept. 25, when he told me, “We have to do an environmental assessment” — six years after the earlier EA.

When I asked how long it would take to do the EA, he replied, “Well, we have a lot of things going on at BLM and at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. I’ll have to talk to Catrina (Williams).”

I asked him to please get me the answers to two questions: Approximately how long will it take to do the EA, and approximately how much will it cost? I’m still waiting for the answers.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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