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Bernhardt says a land use plan focused on oil, gas development near Chaco won't be delayed

Interior secretary says plan needs to be moved forward

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
  • David Bernhardt said he will continue to defer leases within 10 miles of the park boundaries through the end of the year.
  • He said that gives the New Mexico congressional delegation time to get legislation passed that could codify the buffer zone in law.
  • Bernhardt visited the Glade Run Recreation Area, which he described as a model of various entities coming together to improve an outdoor recreation amenity.

FARMINGTON — U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said he will not be delaying a land-use plan that opponents say will lead to thousands of new oil and gas wells being drilled in the Greater Chaco region.

The comment period ended on Sept. 25 after Bernhardt extended it from its original May deadline.

Opponents say the conditions with the COVID-19 pandemic that led Bernhardt to extending the comment period once before have not changed and that the plan should be placed on hold until there can be in-person meetings once again

But during his visit to Farmington on Oct. 5, Bernhardt said the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will go forward with the Farmington Field Office Mancos-Gallup Resource Management Plan Amendment.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt stands in a room at Pueblo Bonito, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Bernhardt said the resource management plan amendment has been in the works since 2014.

“We need to move forward and get this plan done,” he said.

He said staff members will be reviewing the comments received and weighing the various alternatives outlined in the draft environmental impact statement. Generally, Bernhardt said the end decision for such plans is not identical to the proposed preferred alternative in the draft documents.

Various entities, including the Navajo Nation, have asked to have the plan placed on hold until after the pandemic conditions have passed.

In a comment submitted during the comment period, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham echoed those requests to delay adoption of the resource management plan amendment. She requested that an ethnographic study be completed before the plan is finalized. Congress has allocated $1 million for such an ethnographic study, which has not been completed.

Bernhardt said while the study will be useful and important, there are laws in place like the National Historic Preservation Act that protect cultural sites.

Pueblo of Acoma Gov. Brian Vallo and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt walk through a room, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

While he will not be extending the comment period, Bernhardt said he will continue to defer leases within 10 miles of the park boundaries through the end of the year. He said that gives the New Mexico congressional delegation time to get legislation passed that could codify the buffer zone in law.

"We'll give them until the end of the year as we finalize things, but there's going to be a final plan, and we're going to move forward appropriately," he said.

Bernhardt describes Glade Run Recreation Area as model of partnerships

While in Farmington, Bernhardt took a trip to the Glade Run Recreation Area, which he described as a model of various entities coming together to improve an outdoor recreation amenity.

Because of that, Bernhardt wanted to see the Brown Springs area in Glade Run where the county and Bureau of Land Management partnered to develop a campground and improve options for off-highway vehicles.

Off-highway vehicles traverse trails, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, in the Glade Run Recreation Area.

“It really is an example of what I hope we can do in partnering with communities to expand recreational opportunities,” he said.

The Great American Outdoors Act provides funding that Bernhardt said will help with those goals.

It provides $1.5 billion for the next five years to address deferred maintenance at facilities across the country, which could include Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Mesa Verde National Park. Bernhardt said locations across the United States have lists of deferred maintenance that needs to be completed because "really for 40 years, it's not been our focus."

In addition, it permanently funds the $900 million Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fund was created in the 1960s, but while $900 million is supposed to be authorized to it each year, it has not been fully funded. In the past, Bernhardt said the fund has only received $400 million or so each year rather than the intended $900 million.

Bureau of Land Management Outdoor Recreation Planner Doug McKim shows Sen. Martin Heinrich and County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter a map of the Brown Springs recreation site in Glade Run Recreation Area, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, near Farmington.

By having it fully funded, the Department of Interior can offer grants to states to develop trails or other outdoor recreation amenities.

“This is the biggest investment in recreational opportunities from the federal government ever,” Bernhardt said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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