U.S. Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) today sent a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell expressing concerns and seeking clarification about potential land acquisitions by the federal government along the Niobrara River and near Ponca Bluffs.
Johanns said, "Just like the hundreds of Nebraskans who have contacted me, I get an uneasy feeling when the federal government starts talking about buying hundreds of thousands of acres of private land. We all need some answers before this plan goes any further and the Department of Interior needs to be clear about their intentions."
Fischer said, "Local residents are already excellent stewards of the natural resources entrusted to them, and they are rightly concerned about the federal government seizing or controlling the land they have proudly taken care of for so long. My efforts on this matter are a direct response to the legitimate concerns of these landowners, farmers, fishermen, hunters, ranchers, boaters, and other interested citizens, who deserve more information about the Department of Interior's proposal and its potential impacts."
Today's letter follows a letter from the Senators last week requesting an extension of the public comment period through September 30, 2013. Click HERE to view the previous letter.
A copy of today's letter is available below:
June 6, 2013
The Honorable Sally Jewell
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Jewell:
We are writing to express serious concerns regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and Land Protection Plan (LPP) for the Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Areas in Nebraska and South Dakota. We have been contacted by hundreds of Nebraskans who share our concerns regarding this joint U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service plan and the potential acquisition of private property and permanent easements on privately held property equaling up to 120,000 acres for the Niobrara Confluence segment and up to 90,000 acres of privately held property for the Ponca Bluffs Conservation Area. While we are strongly supportive of many efforts to conserve natural resources across the country and in Nebraska, we have serious reservations about the dramatic expansions of federal authorities contemplated in the DEIS/LPP for the Niobrara River and Ponca Bluffs areas.
Accordingly, please consider this letter a formal request for information. Specifically, please provide responses to the questions below. Please note also that our request that the comment period not be closed before September 30, 2013, remains outstanding.
* How will the cost of this proposed DEIS and LPP for the Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Area be prioritized within funding available from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act?
* Have you calculated the impact of the "proposed action" (Alternative C) on local and county property tax revenues? If so, what is the total revenue loss associated with Alternative C? What portion of these revenue losses for local schools and roads will be compensated by federal funding mechanisms, such as the National Wildlife Refuge Fund and Payment in Lieu of Taxes?
* What is the indirect economic cost to local communities affected by the Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Area Plan (within the area and contiguous to the area) of the proposed acquisition of 120,000 acres for the Niobrara Confluence segment and 60,000 acres for the Ponca Bluffs Conservation Area (Alternative C)?
* Have the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service conducted a cost/benefit analysis of this proposed federal land acquisition? If so, please share the analysis. If not, do the Services plan to?
* How much money are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service currently spending annually to manage the Missouri River Recreational River area? What is the DOI's estimate of the total unmet maintenance needs for properties and resources in this region? Do the agencies have current resources to maintain an additional 210,000 acres? Under Alternative C, what is the 10-year cost of maintenance associated with the plan?
* Section 1.10 of the DEIS and LPP notes that the agencies responsible for the content of the document "have no jurisdictional authority over the USACE nor possess the authority to change public law. Accordingly, the proposed action will not revise authorized purposes or waterflows as determined through the "Master Water Control Manual.'" Will the adoption of Alternative C in any way affect the range of options available to the USACE as it manages the Missouri River system for water control? If so, what water management options will no longer be possible within the Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Areas or in areas affected by management plans for those areas?
* The DEIS and LPP list a variety of State Parks, recreational areas, hunting areas, and other recreational infrastructure located in or nearby the proposed Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation area that could be affected. For areas where the federal government has no property interest in the area listed and there is a disagreement between state and federal authorities, does the DEIS or LPP provide for an outcome other than the legal supremacy of the federal view on the conflict?
* For state lands within the proposed Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation areas, what management options will no longer be available to the State of Nebraska if Alternative C is selected?
* Do the DEIS and LPP in any way preclude the possibility of changing existing hunting and boating access in areas affected by the proposed Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Areas?
* What recourse will private landowners have to reverse federal perpetual conservation easements in the region?
We request the benefit of a formal reply by June 30, 2013. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Deb Fischer Mike Johanns
United States Senate United States Senator