A plan by the federal government to purchase 1.4 million acres along the Niobrara River and Ponca Bluffs has strong protests from the Congressional delegations of both Nebraska and South Dakota.
“I’m very skeptical that the federal government needs more land at this point in time,” Congressman Adrian Smith tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Smith is one of the members of Congress asking the Department of Interior to allow more time for comment on the United States Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to buy the land.
Smith joined in a letter written to the Department of Interior by United States Senators Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer as well as Congresswoman Kristi Noem of South Dakota. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota has since joined the protest of the federal proposal
The letter states, “Although we agree that targeted conservation initiatives can yield both environmental and economic benefits to an area, we are of the opinion that these goals can be achieved through existing private-federal partnerships and conservation programs without increasing federal jurisdiction over additional private land at taxpayers’ expense.”
The proposal calls for the federal government to purchase 1.4 million acres for the proposed Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs management areas from as many as 1,500 landowners in both Nebraska and South Dakota.
Smith questions the need for the federal government to buy more private land.
“It takes away local control,” Smith says. “It, I think, tampers with the tax base and oftentimes skews the local property tax schedule or that whole approach. So, that’s the driving problems that I see.”
The delegation says the proposal would be costly for the federal government and would have an adverse effect on the local economy.
The public comment period officially ended yesterday. The comment period has been extended once already.
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