The White Pine County Board of Commissioners took a significant step last week to resolve a local land dispute between the Baker General Improvement District and the Bureau of Land Management. The district needs to replace an ailing water tank, while adhering to BLM regulations protecting the habitat of the sage grouse.

Board Chair Gary Perea, who lives in Baker, provided a video of the water tank in question at the meeting on Feb. 24. The footage clearly showed leaking water running down the sides of the tank.

Baker GID Chairman Dave Sturlin and Treasurer Terry Steadman came to the meeting to describe their right-of-way application to replace the tank.

“We’re making every effort we can to work with BLM,” Steadman said.

BLM Ely District Manager Michael Herder was also present.

“We’re here to address any issues,” Herder said.

After a discussion, both sides agreed that the Baker GID should write a letter to the BLM requesting an expedited process. Perea asked if construction could begin by May 1.

“If we meet the criteria,” Herder said. “Realistically speaking, biologically speaking, it’s in the best interest of the sage grouse if the new tank is completed and the old one removed in one season. If we can limit the time period that both tanks are in place, that’s what we’re looking for.”

“If Baker agrees to write that statement, how long for an answer?” Perea asked.

“Very quickly,” Herder responded. “Our attorneys are already looking at it. Completion in one year is very appealing. As long as there is a net conservation gain, it’s doable. We still have to do bird surveys before construction can happen, but Baker GID can qualify for exceptions to expedite the process, as long as there is a net conservation gain. We’re confident it’s not going to be an issue. After the end of the nesting season, there’s between a week and a month before construction can start.”

Perea brought up recent water quality issues in Flint, Mich., that have received much recent media attention.

“There could be algae or mold,” Perea said. “There’s a concern there. There’s a potential for disaster. If anything happens to the water tank, BLM should take the responsibility. After October, it’s out of Baker GID’s and the county’s control.”

“Everyone knows we want to get this done as quickly as possible,” Commissioner Richard Howe said.

The board also held a special fire commission meeting. The commission voted to approve the selection of a consultant to study cooperative fire and medical services between the county and the City of Ely. Howe abstained.

“I don’t see any progress,” Howe said. “The gap is widening and spending money on a consultant is not a good idea.”

“I strongly oppose doing the study for the same reason,” Commissioner Mike Coster said. “It’s less likely that it’s going to be functional now than 60 days ago when we started the process.  Even if the city participates, they may not accept the study. But the commission has already decided to do it. The issue now is how, and how do we get more bang for the buck. I don’t like the expenditure or the study, but the issue is how to implement the commission’s decision.”

“I agree there is a gap,” Perea said. “Every time we sit down to meet, there’s a dispute over numbers. A study will answer those questions. It will take an inventory, then maybe we can sit down and talk. If we have a study, we’ll have the facts and the study will help to close that gap.”

“If we go ahead with the study, the facts may do away with the innuendos and fictional information,” Commissioner Carol McKenzie added.

“I absolutely disagree,” Howe said.

Earlier, public meeting regular and former Ely mayor George Chachas began his customary critical comments, Perea reminded him that singling out county employees by name was illegal. Perea and Coster also reminded Chachas of his ability to submit a request to have an issue addressed as an official agenda item. District Attorney Mike Wheable encouraged Chachas to reach out to a board member and to work with that commissioner to create and address an agenda item, and from that point the meeting proceeded to conduct its business according to its published agenda.

The board next holds its twice monthly meeting at the County Aquatic Center on March 9 at 9 a.m.