U.S. Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Reps. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) and Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) today wrote Department of Interior (DoI) Secretary Sally Jewell requesting an extension of the comment period for the proposed Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs land management areas. The current comment period is scheduled to close on Sept. 30, 2013.
In the letter, the lawmakers cite lack of adequate notification of previous public meetings, too few meetings in affected areas in South Dakota and citizen confusion surrounding the treatment of their comments as reasons for the extension.
The proposal under review could result in government management or acquisition of more than 1.4 million acres of land in Nebraska and South Dakota, affecting as many as 1,500 landowners.
Full text of the letter is below:
September 26, 2013
The Honorable Sally Jewell
Department of Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240
RE: Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Land Protection Plan, Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Areas, Nebraska and South Dakota, March 2013; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service.
Dear Secretary Jewell:
We are writing regarding the draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and land protection plan published by the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) intended to address a project along portions of the Missouri and Niobrara rivers in portions of Nebraska and South Dakota. On May 24, 2013, you announced the closing of the comment period for the DEIS would be extended from June 14, 2013 to September 30, 2013, consistent with concerns expressed in previous requests.
Today, we write to again draw your attention to this comment period. While we appreciate the extension through the end of September, we respectfully request that the comment period be extended. Residents need more time to register their opinions on the DEIS.
Although our constituents have appreciated the public meetings FWS and NPS staff members have held, this appreciation has been substantially dampened for several reasons. First, the meetings were poorly advertised, so communities affected by the plan have only now begun to be made aware of the content of the planned acquisitions. In addition, while a number of relevant meetings have been hosted throughout impacted areas in Nebraska, there have been few such events in South Dakota. Consequently, community leaders are only now including discussion of the plan and related issues in meetings addressing zoning, county budget management, and county Commission actions. Closing the comment period effectively shuts out these local leaders from registering official positions with the plan's authors.
Finally, a number of our constituents have been informed at these meetings that similar comments - including specifically those taking the form of petitions - would be considered a single comment. This fact alone has caused serious concern and rising frustration. It is our strongly held view that at a minimum, constituents who signed petitions should be given the opportunity to register their views and questions in a form that will not be aggregated with others. At this point in time, that cannot occur unless the comment period is extended.
A proposal of this size and scope merits additional time for consideration. Accordingly, we respectfully request that the comment period be extended through January 31, 2014.
Senator Mike Johanns
Senator Deb Fischer
Representative Adrian Smith
Representative Kristi Noem