Congress takes a break, and so does the Bodie Hills brouhaha

An effort by Mono County’s U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon to remove the Bodie Hills from their current status as a Wilderness Study Area (WSA) is on hold, after Congress adjourned early this month without voting on the bill.

Mono County District 4 Supervisor Bob Peters, who recently brought a resolution to the county supervisors asking to release the Bodies Hills from WSA protection, got the news last week,
“It seems unlikely in a lame duck session to deal with anything, making it unlikely any legislation will get passed he said, adding that McKeon’s office told him the bill would be probably be dropped until next year.

The bill, called the Mono County Economic Development Act of 2010, was introduced to Congress on Sept. 15.

McKeon’s office did not respond before deadline.

The issue packed 60 people into the Bridgeport courthouse Sept. 21. The end result it that Peter’s proposed resolution asking the supervisors to support McKeon’s bill was narrowly defeated with a 3-2 vote.

Peters said then that he hoped removing Wilderness Study Area protection from the 16,482-acre Bodie Hills area behind Bodie State Park would allow more activities to occur on the site, thereby increasing economic diversity in tourism-driven North County.

Removing the WSA protection from the site could loosen some environmental regulations governing mining and other activities, although mining would not be prohibited even if the hills were designated as wilderness study areas.

Recent exploration by a mining company called Cougar Gold has upped the ante for the Bodie Hills, and the possibility of increased mining activity was one of the main issues that drew the large crowd to Bridgeport several weeks ago.

Peters said Monday that Cougar Gold told him they would be happy to come to Mono County to talk about their proposed project, something that many in the audience asked for on Sept. 21.

But given that the bill was going nowhere until next year, and given that Peters himself would not be on the board next year, he didn’t think it was his place to pursue the subject further at this time.

Peters was appointed to fill the Late Bill Reid’s seat and will be replaced in January by the winner of the Nov. 2 election.

Peters was joined by District 3 Supervisor Vikki Bauer in his support of the bill to remove protection from the Bodie Hills.

The two candidates for the job, Tim Fesko and Tim Hansen, have both signalled their support for removing the WSA protection from the Bodie Hills site, in an attempt, they said, to increase the options for economic diversity in North County.

But other supervisors, including Byng Hunt and Tom Farnetti, adamantly opposed the resolution, mirroring a vote they both took in 1998 as supervisors when the question of what to do with the county’s dozen-plus WSAs divided the county supervisors and the audience attending a contentious meeting.