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Bodie Hills resolution dies in county supervisors' chambers

August 6, 2011

“No.”

That was the Mono County Supervisors’ almost united response to Tuesday’s request by a Bridgeport community group to take the Bodie Hills Wilderness Study Area out of its semi-protected status.

In fact, the board was so irritated by the resolution and the way it ended up on the agenda, they refused to vote on it, leaving it to die an undignified death.

The almost 3,000 letters and emails that had come into their inboxes since late last week, the vast majority of them supporting protection for the Bodie Hills, added to their frustration. The 40 or so members of the public who showed up for the meeting in Bridgeport (and via teleconference in Mammoth) were also mostly, although not all, in favor of protecting the area.

For every call to protect private property rights in the Bodie Hills, or to give Bridgeport residents other economic options besides tourism, there were four calls to protect the area from more intensive development.

Jan Huggans, a private property owner in the hills, said, “We feel that our voice has not been heard,” as she explained that a needed water pipeline could not be put in due to the restrictions on the WSA. But her voice, and many others like her, was drowned out by the courteous but numerous voices that said the Bodie Hills deserved protection.

“I love the Bodie Hills,” said Deborah Lurie, a Bridgeport resident. “There are a lot of us in Bridgeport who do, but are kind of shy about speaking out, due to having to protect relationships with our friends and neighbors. But I think if you took a vote in Bridgeport, you might find there’s a 50/50, or that even more people might go for it (to protect the hills).”

Lurie’s words were echoed in some form by thousands of letters and email comments that were loaded on a desk before the supervisors in a stack almost two feet high. Another speaker from out of the country said when he posted the Bodie Hills question online to try to get “an international perspective”, he got 203 responses in a very short time.

“The top 11 countries were Canada, the UK, followed by (many others) including New Zealand, Spain, Croatia, South Africa and Portugal,” he said.

The board’s “no” was also amplified by the fact that not only did the Bridgeport Regional Advisory Committee (the group that put the resolution on the agenda) ask for support to remove the protected status for the Bodie Hills, it also asked for support on backing a huge Congressional bill that would strip protection from many of the country’s WSAs and its Roadless Areas. Called H.R. 1581, the bill is sponsored by state Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and co-sponsored by U.S. Congressman Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita).

In the end, the frustration over the whole déjà vu aspect of the issue dominated and the usually calm supervisors vented with some abandon.

“We have heard about this at least five times in the past ten months and… I’m against HR 1581,” said District 5 (Mammoth) Supervisor Byng Hunt. “It’s the most absurd piece of legislation I’ve ever seen. It takes local control completely out of our hands.”

“To say I’m frustrated would be an understatement,” said District 2 Supervisor Hap Hazard (Crowley Lake and south, Tri-Valley area). “I thought we closed this issue in March when we had a four to six week opportunity to do something with it.”
The angry emails he got telling him he was breaking his promise to leave the issue alone didn’t help, he said.

District 1 Supervisor Larry Johnston (Mammoth) was not subtle.

“I’m going to Yellowstone (with my family) in a few hours,” he said. “Without the federal government we wouldn’t have these places. They would be overrun or developed. We’re lucky Mono County isn’t owned by us. It’s owned by someone who will withdraw their application if the WSA status of the hills was not removed.

"Congressman McKeon supported the company’s proposal at the time, in another bill that would have done just that. But the resistance to the mine, the bill, and the short notice about both, angered enough Mono County residents then to alert the company that the going would be tough locally. Things died down — until this most recent bill, H.R. 1581, again backed by McKeon (who is also the powerful chair of the Armed Services Committee).

Hansen also noted that at the March afternoon meeting on the Bodie Hills when the issue was last agendized, many Bridgeport residents did not attend because they worked. Instead, the residents got together at an informal meeting that evening. The resolution before the board is the result of what they wanted, he said. He also defended himself against the comments from other supervisors that the issue was put on the agenda at the last minute.

“This was not a secret,” he said. “I’ve been talking to people about this for months.”

He hit bad luck again when he tried to get the supervisors to second a motion he made to “acknowledge receipt of the Bridgeport RPAC’s resolution and pledge to the citizens to be included in a public dialogue in ongoing issues regarding the Bodie Hills WSAs under the FLPMA (Federal Land Policy and Management Act for the BLM) guidelines regarding the coordination process.”

He didn’t get a second and the motion died. Hansen said later that he was very disappointed, and that the failure of his “innocuous” motion alienated his Bridgeport constituents even more. But it was also clear many of the supervisors believed all of the public, including Bridgeport, was already invited into all such discussions, including the afternoon one noted above.

In the end, although the supervisors all urged the Bridgeport RPAC to send their own letter in support of the bill and removing protection from the Bodie Hills, they said they could not support such a bill.
Hazard said it perhaps most clearly.

“This bill removes local control,” he said. “I don’t want anyone telling us here in Mono County which WSA should be wilderness or not and I don’t want to tell anyone in Utah or Arizona what they should do about theirs,” he said.

The issue thus once again goes into limbo. Only Congress can grant wilderness status to a piece of land, and it has declined, for decades now, to make decisions not only on the Bodie Hills but also on the rest of the country’s WSAs.

That could change with H.R. 1581, which seeks to release all the country’s U.S. Forest Service “Roadless Areas” not recommended for wilderness by that agency; for all the Bureau of Land Management’s WSAs not recommended for wilderness, including the Bodie Hills; and many hundreds of acres of similar lands in Mono County.

Has the fight ended?

Or has it just begun?

Again.

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