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BLM to host meetings about Chaco park plan

Four open houses will be held virtually
Virtual public meetings about the draft Farmington Mancos-Gallup Resource Management plan will be held this month.

FARMINGTON – Four virtual open houses about the draft Farmington Mancos-Gallup Resource Management plan will be held this month, which will allow the affected communities to submit public comment.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs are hosting the events, following five virtual public meetings the agencies held in May. The resource management plan and the associated environmental impact statement will be used to guide natural resource management for public lands in San Juan, Arriba, McKinley and Sandoval counties, and public lands surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

“Hosting these open houses virtually, we will have the ability to reach a much broader audience for public input and provide additional opportunities for tribes, Pueblos and the local communities to engage with the agencies,” said Tim Spisak, the New Mexico state director of the BLM.

The open houses will be held from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 26 to 29. Each day’s sessions will have a select focus audience to comment on the draft plan. The first day will be focused on comments from the Navajo Nation and Navajo tribal members, and the Aug. 27 session will be for the Pueblos and other tribes. The last two days, Aug. 28 and 29, will be comment periods for the general public.

“I encourage tribes, Pueblos and the public to participate in these virtual open houses so that they can ask questions and become more informed on the alternatives being considered,” said Bart Stevens, Navajo regional director for the BIA.

Jonathan Thompson/High Country News file<br><br>Oil drilling infrastructure on a road leading out of Chaco Canyon.

The additional public comment meetings come a few months after U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, state officials and tribal leaders criticized the U.S. Department of the Interior’s handling of the virtual meetings in May, during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Public officials called for a 120-day extension for the public comment period on the draft resource plan for northwest New Mexico and environmental impact statement. The original 90-day public comment period expired on May 28.

In a statement at the time, Udall called for the period to be extended while the tribes, Pueblos and local communities effected by the draft plan were fighting to address the surge of COVID-19 cases.

The draft management plan and the environmental impact study covers more than 4 million acres of public land, including 1.3 million acres of land managed by the BLM, 675,400 acres of Navajo Trust land and 210,000 acres of individual allotments in 17 Navajo Nation chapters.

A website was created with the project overview, possible alternatives, frequently asked questions and details about how to provide comments to the draft plan and environmental impact statement.

After visiting the Chaco Culture National Historical Park last year, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt put oil and gas leasing on hold within a 10-mile radius of the park for one year. The buffer zones around the park are one of the options included in the management plan.


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