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Elko panel seeks to block road plan

ELKO — The Elko County Commission is trying to find a way to block or at least postpone the U.S. Forest Service’s pending plan to regulate use of national forest roads and close some it determines are redundant or damaging to the environment.

The commissioners directed the district attorney’s office this week to research legal options to prevent the agency from moving forward with its Travel Management Plan for most of the northern and eastern parts of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

They also said they intend to request the Forest Service to complete a more thorough environmental impact statement in reviewing the proposed plan instead of a less detailed environmental assessment.

Forest Service officials said they will assess public comments to determine if the changes in the road system will have a significant environmental impact. The significance of the impact will determine whether they do an environmental assessment or more thorough environmental impact statement.

The new plan is intended to identify and regulate road and trail usage while protecting natural resources on more than 1 million acres of forest lands in the Mountain City, Jarbidge and Ruby Mountains districts.

Agency officials said the plan will include adjustments and deletions to the current road system that includes nearly 600 routes totaling more than 1,700 miles in those three districts. It also will add some user-created routes to the system and prohibit motor vehicles on non-designated routes. Similar plans are being generated for the other districts in the forest, which totals more than 6 million acres in Nevada.

A public comment period on the scoping process for the road system for the three districts originally was to have closed on March 9 but agency officials extended it to March 23 and then on Friday extended it again to March 30 in response to concerns raised by the county.

Another round of public comment will be conducted when the agency develops a specific proposal in April or May but agency officials said Friday the first round of comment is important so any concerns can be considered before launching the formal environmental review. Final action is not expected until the end of the year.

Opponents criticize the quality of the maps the agency has produced identifying legal existing roads as well as renegade routes off-road vehicles have established over the years outside the legal planning and evaluation process.

Commissioner Demar Dahl said on Wednesday that the comment period was about to close and they only have maps that “hardly anyone can read.”

County planner Randy Brown said Forest Service officials “have not conducted themselves in a manner in which we can offer any good comments.”

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