Users take sides over possible road closures

The drafting of a resource-management plan for more than 1 million acres in and around Mesa County threatens public access to public lands, according to many who gathered Thursday at the Mesa County Fairgrounds.

For others, plans drafted so far by the Bureau of Land Management should address air quality at least as much as they take into account access issues.

Participants in an open house sponsored by the county filled the Jockey Club at the fairgrounds on Orchard Mesa, with many of them filling out comments that the county commission will take into account as it drafts its own comments to the federal agency.

The commission will conduct a public hearing on its comments on July 17.

The travel-management section of the draft plan has sparked debate, largely because of the lengths of road closures contemplated in the draft plan. The preferred alternative, said Brandon Siegfried, would close 2,180 miles of roads, or about 60 percent of the nearly 4,000 miles of roads that crisscross much of the lower-elevation public lands under the jurisdiction of the Grand Junction Field Office of the BLM.

“If the (draft resource management plan) were looking at closing 10 percent or 20 percent of the roads, we wouldn’t be here,” said Siegfried, who has led criticism of the travel-management sections of the plan.

As it considers how best to manage its territory, the BLM would be well-advised to opt for its alternative C, a more restrictive approach, Citizens for Clean Air said in comments submitted to the county and the federal agency.

More roads means more emissions from motor vehicles and more dust in the air as dirt bikers, ATV riders, jeepers and others drive up and down arroyos and across the desert, the organization said.

“We’d like it to be more restrictive” to fend off the possibility that the county will fail to protect its air quality, endangering public health and inviting federal scrutiny, Karen Sjoberg of Citizens for Clean Air said.

Alternative C contemplates closing 83 percent of the roads in the field office jurisdiction, Siegfried said.

“We’re going to put BLM to the test” by using county roads and what are known as “vested-interest” roads, or routes that aren’t maintained but are otherwise recognized by the county, to preserve access, Siegfried said, noting that “the county is stepping up” to preserve the routes.

One area in which the BLM has stepped in appropriately is the desert area north of Grand Junction, known as Zone L, a 63-square-mile playground mostly used by motor-vehicle riders, Siegfried said.

The problem, he said, is that the BLM is considering a similar rate of road closures in the other 18 zones.

Once the BLM closes the comment period, it will then begin considering comments on the travel-management section, which means evaluating both broad discussions and comments about specific roads or routes, some amounting to scratches on the maps over which they will pore in the following months.

How much all the work will pay off remains to be seen, said Jeff Bates, president of the Grand Mesa Jeep Club.

Though the county has been supportive, “I wouldn’t call it a win right now,” Bates said.


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