Nearly 300 people turned out for a Public Hearing before the Mono County Board of Supervisors in Lee Vining on Tuesday to make comments regarding the recently introduced Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act, also known as the Compromise Wilderness Bill.
Staffers from the offices of Senators Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, and Congressman Buck McKeon turned up to hear local comments and take those concerns back to Washington where the companion bills are currently in committee.
Tom Bohigian of Boxer’s office provided a short history of the bills, saying that “everybody has given up something” as the process has moved forward, and “believes all the issues on the table can and will be resolved.”
Bob Haueter, McKeon’s Chief of Staff, began by quelling rumors about his boss’ involvement in “back door dealings” that have been rampant in the Eastern Sierra for the last month. Haueter refuted claims that McKeon “sold out” to Boxer’s interests, and explained that unlike McKeon’s past attempts at Wilderness legislation in the Sierra, the current bill actually “has a chance of passing.”
Following the comments from Washington, local citizens lined up behind the podium and, within the allotted 2 minutes, offered their support or opposition to the legislation.
Of the nearly 100 people who spoke, only five were adamantly opposed. There were many less-than-enthusiastic supporters with concerns about specific aspects of the legislation, but still offered a tepid support. The overwhelming majority, meanwhile, offered their zealous thanks and support.
Members of Mono County’s agricultural community spoke about the importance of preserving their water rights, something Bohigian assured would be protected. Others commented on the importance of enforcement, hoping the bills would provide adequate funding for the Forest Service to properly enforce all new, and existing Wilderness boundaries. Others raised concerns about the inclusion of “inappropriate” lands for Wilderness designation, and others decried the exclusion of “appropriate” lands.
If the varied concerns would have filled a bucket, the support would have filled Mono Lake.
That reality wasn’t enough to inundate the Mono Board of Supervisors, however. After more than four hours of community input that amounted to an unequivocal endorsement of the legislation, the Mono Supervisors failed to put the community’s desire into a Resolution in support of the bills.
Supervisor Bill Reid said that he expected the bill would eventually win support, but that he was still “catching up to speed” on the details, and since he sought additional WSA release near Bodie for future mineral extraction, he would not vote for it that day.
Supervisor Hazard recognized that time was of the essence, and because of that he wasn’t going to waste time renegotiating the “silly” cutoff of the White Mountains at the Inyo County line, but couldn’t ignore other boundary issues. Hazard was concerned that Wilderness might hamper geologic monitoring efforts near Laurel Lakes Rd., might eliminate an emergency access road out of Swall Meadows, and didn’t want to sacrifice potential high-speed internet sites to Wilderness. Despite assurances from Bohigian that those issues could be addressed, Hazard would not support a Resolution.
For the many community members who remained in the room, Mammoth’s Supervisor Byng Hunt was ready to support the bill, and despite his concerns about specific boundaries, Supervisor Farnetti was also ready to support a Resolution.
It all came down to Chairwoman Vikki Bauer, who said there were “no deal breakers” in the bills, and indicated she would support it. She added her own line to Hunt’s Resolution that stipulated Board support was contingent on Washington addressing the community’s concerns. Bohigian and Haueter then assured the Supervisors those matters would be addressed.
Hunt made a motion and Farnetti seconded it, and a vote seemed imminent until Bauer asked for further comment. That set in action a discussion about the importance of unanimity on a Resolution of this nature, and “with a little patience,” Reid said the board would likely get a 5-0 vote. Although the Resolution faced a 3-2 passage, Farnetti withdrew his second, Hunt withdrew his motion, and the silence that fell across the room was reminiscent of a true Wilderness experience.
The Supervisors instead passed a “Motion,” a step down from a “Resolution” which stopped short of endorsing the bill in its current form. The Supes suggested that their full support would be forthcoming, once a few more details had been ironed out.