February 28, 2017

Bridge work to force extended road closure on Route 66 in Amboy

The East Mojave desert area is subject to extreme weather conditions including summer monsoonal moisture. Flash flooding can damage bridges causing periodic road closures. In August 2014 over 40 bridges along historic Route 66 in the desert region of San Bernardino County were damaged by flash flooding. (Department of Public Works)

Desert Dispatch

San Bernardino County Public Works will be constructing two new bridges and road improvements on National Trails Highway (Route 66) at Dola Ditch (2.08 miles east of Kelbaker Road) and Lanzit Ditch (2.77 miles east of Kelbaker Road), east of the community of Amboy. The construction will include removing the existing timber bridges and constructing new timber bridges.

A portion of National Trails Highway will be closed at all times to through traffic, including emergency vehicles. Traffic will be routed around the construction on public streets and highways. The detour plan includes using Interstate 40 and Kelbaker Road.

Local residents and businesses will have access from Essex Road west to the construction site, but there will be no traffic through the construction site. Construction of the project is tentatively scheduled to start on Monday and run through mid-September. This construction project was awarded to Cushman Construction Corporation of Goleta. The funding for this project is from the Federal Highway Bridge Program and locally funded gas tax.

This project is part of a master plan to replace several of the 127 bridges along the National Trails Highway corridor over the next several years. Engineering standards have changed since the bridges were originally constructed in the late 1920s, and with the modern traffic loading on these bridges, they have become structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.

Route 66, or National Trails Highway, is significant in American history as one of the earliest and most important highways linking the Midwest and California and was once characterized as "the road of opportunity."

The designation of Route 66 in 1926 signified the nation's growing commitment to improved transportation arteries and increased influence of the automobile on American lifestyles. Route 66 had a transformative effect on the American landscape through which it passed. This landscape continues to provide a visual narrative history of America's automobile culture of the 20th century and its legacy of related commerce and architecture.

At well in excess of 250 miles, San Bernardino County has the longest stretch of Historic Route 66 than any other county in the United States.

"Replacement of these two bridges is a giant step in the continued effort to preserve the historical bridges of Route 66 in San Bernardino County," said 1st District Supervisor Robert A. Lovingood, chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.

The Public Works website contains up-to-date information on National Trails Highway at http://cms.sbcounty.gov/dpw/Operations/Route66.aspx

February 27, 2017

Joshua trees meet very different fates in California, Arizona

The sun goes down on Joshua trees at Castle Mountains National Monument in eastern California on Feb. 1, 2016. Private land across not far from here was recently transfered to Mojave National Preserve in part to protect these iconic desert plants. (David Becker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)


It’s been an up-and-down month for Joshua trees in the region.

At Mojave National Preserve in California, thousands of the iconic desert plants recently won permanent federal protection, thanks to a land transfer that added 3,100 acres to the park 90 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, in Mohave County, Arizona, a Las Vegas businessman is defending himself from allegations of a “Joshua tree massacre” on about 100 acres of private property he’s clearing for agricultural development.

Al Barbarich, who owns the land about 95 miles southeast of Las Vegas and hopes to establish a nut and fruit orchard there, said his permit to clear the land did not require him to save any of the Joshua trees. But he said he arranged to have about 100 of them dug up and replanted at homes, a school and other locations in the area — all at no cost to those who received the plants.

“We tried to do something nice for the neighbors and the community,” he said.

Some area residents didn’t see it that way. In online posts and a Feb. 12 story in the Kingman Daily Miner newspaper, the developer was accused of wholesale Joshua tree murder.

Barbarich acknowledged that some plants were destroyed as the land was cleared, though he couldn’t say how many. He said a lot of the Joshua trees shown piled up in the photos posted by his critics were older plants with little hope of being successfully transplanted.

The negative publicity is “unfortunate,” Barbarich said, because he felt like he was trying, at his own expense, to do the responsible thing. “We wanted to preserve the trees to the extent that people wanted them,” he said.


The additional Joshua trees now under the protection of Mojave National Preserve in California were also once subject to the whims of private development.

The plants are growing on what used to be scattered pockets of private land within the boundaries of the 1.6 million acre desert preserve. Over the past decade, the nonprofit Mojave Desert Land Trust has been buying up such “private in-holdings” and selling or donating them to the National Park Service.

The latest land transfer, completed earlier this month, involved 110 scattered parcels ranging in size from 5 to 320 acres.

Frazier Haney, conservation director for the trust, said most of the land is located in Lanfair Valley near the eastern edge of the preserve, an area “really rich in Joshua trees and Mojave yucca.”

Haney said the trust purchased the property from “a variety of willing sellers” over the past nine years. The group paid a total of $1.5 million for the land and received $1.4 million from the park service in return.

That money will be used to buy other private property within the preserve and other desert parks in California, Haney said.

“Scenic views, sensitive habitat and historic resources that might otherwise be lost are now protected in perpetuity for all to appreciate and enjoy,” Greg Gress, regional realty chief for the park service, said in a written statement.

Haney said private in-holdings are not governed by the same rules and protections as the surrounding park land. Gradually eliminating the patchwork of in-holdings simplifies management of the entire preserve, he said.


But Haney stressed that the trust isn’t trying to force private landowners off their property, some of which dates to the days of homesteading in the area roughly 100 years ago. “It’s strictly willing sellers,” he said.

Since it was founded in Joshua Tree, California, in 2007, the conservation group has donated more parcels of land to the park service than any other trust in the country, Haney said.

Mojave National Preserve has gained more than 30,000 acres — and countless Joshua trees — through the trust’s efforts.

Haney said more than 1,300 private parcels remain within the boundaries of the preserve, though, “so we’ve still got a ways to go.”

February 15, 2017

Nonprofit land trust turns over 3,000 acres to Mojave National Preserve

An entrance to Mojave National Preserve on Zzyzx Road near Baker, Calif. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Associated Press
Los Angeles Times

A nonprofit group has donated more than 3,000 acres of desert land to the Mojave National Preserve.

The Mojave Desert Land Trust announced Wednesday that it had handed over ecologically and historically significant land to the park. The 110 parcels already are surrounded by the national preserve. They include juniper and yucca stands and a century-old homestead site.

The trust has an ongoing program to buy up private land that survived within the boundaries of the Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park.

“Development of this private land can degrade neighboring park resources, impact public access and cause management problems for park staff,” a trust statement said.

Over the past decade, the trust has conveyed about 23,000 acres of land to the National Park Service.

“Our great desert parks are immeasurably enhanced” by the work, Greg Gress, regional realty chief for the National Park Service, said in a statement. “Scenic views, sensitive habit and historic resources that might otherwise be lost are now protected in perpetuity for all to appreciate and enjoy.”

February 8, 2017

California water venture tied to Trump sees prospects rise after years of setbacks

Sacramento Bee

WASHINGTON -- Until Donald Trump won the presidency, prospects looked bleak for Cadiz, a California company that has struggled for years to secure federal permits to transform Mojave Desert groundwater into liquid gold.

With the change of administration, a new day is dawning. In December, the National Governors Association circulated a preliminary list of infrastructure projects provided by the Trump transition team, and Cadiz’s was on the list. The company’s stock price rose on that news, part of a trend that has seen Cadiz’s valuation more than double – to roughly $14 a share – since the election.

Cadiz has worked hard to raise its profile among consultants compiling lists of possible infrastructure projects, says Scott Slater, CEO for the company.

But what has really helped Cadiz is its deep connections to Washington. Slater is part of a Denver law firm – Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck – whose attorneys have long lobbied the Interior Department, with some serving inside of it. One of those is Brownstein’s David Bernhardt, who served as Interior’s solicitor during George W. Bush’s presidency, helped Trump during the transition and is a candidate to return to Interior in a top job. He’s also been a lobbyist for the powerful Westlands Water District in California’s Central Valley.

In an interview, Slater said Cadiz still faced hurdles but the project’s future looked brighter than it did a few months ago. “The dynamics have changed,” said Slater, noting that Republicans now control the White House in addition to both houses of Congress.

Slater and his law firm have a lot riding on Cadiz’s success. According to an SEC filing last year, the Brownstein firm stands to earn 200,000 shares of Cadiz stock if the company meets milestones for completing the project and selling water. Brownstein has already earned 200,000 shares for its involvement with the company — a stock portfolio that is sure to appreciate in value if Cadiz can overcome permitting obstacles.

Numerous businesses are hoping to cash in on Trump’s interest in infrastructure. Two weeks ago, McClatchy was the first to report on a list of infrastructure projects that, according to the National Governors Association, the Trump transition team had given the group. Cadiz’s was one of two private California water projects on the list; the other was a desalination project south of Los Angeles.

While Trump is a supporter of traditional public works – touting the need for “new roads, highways, bridges, airports, tunnels and railways” during his inaugural address – fiscal hawks and some GOP leaders are leery of new federal funding for infrastructure. That political calculus has created openings for private infrastructure projects seeking regulatory relief, especially if they have connections. Cadiz’s project falls into both of those categories.

The brainchild of a British financier, Keith Brackpool, Cadiz is a publicly traded company with a stock price that has gyrated for a decade and a half. The company owns 45,000 acres in the Mojave Desert, where it hopes to extract water from an aquifer to sell to thirsty water districts in Southern California.

Fifteen years ago, the company’s stock price approached $200 a share, in part because Brackpool was close to then-Gov. Gray Davis of California, and investors apparently assumed that Cadiz had the political juice to make its project a reality. Yet Cadiz ran into opposition from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which started questioning the company’s financial resources, and also from environmentalists, who feared the project could further dry up the Mojave, a national preserve. By 2011, Cadiz’s stock price had dropped below $10.

That’s when Slater came aboard. An expert in California water law, he became president of Cadiz in 2011 and rose to become CEO two years later. Through Slater’s Brownstein firm and other firms, Cadiz also stepped up its advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill, spending $3.4 million in lobbying from 2011 to 2016, according to a tabulation by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Slater has helped the company win several legal victories. In 2016, California’s 4th District Court of Appeal upheld six lower-court decisions in favor of Cadiz, putting to rest further state court litigation against the company’s environmental impact report.

Yet the company remains blocked by an unexpected 2015 Interior Department decision. That year, the California office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, an Interior agency, reversed a 2009 determination that the Cadiz project needed no federal permits. Cadiz had long believed that it could use an existing railroad right of way to build a 43-mile pipeline to transfer its water to potential buyers, and do so without a federal permit.

The BLM ruling opened up the possibility of an uncertain multi-year federal review, frightening potential investors and sending the company’s stock price down to the $4 range.

Slater said in an interview that Cadiz was urging the new administration to rescind the BLM decision, “accelerating our path by removing some of the underbrush.” Cadiz also wants Congress to pass legislation to make clear its intent on how the BLM should handle decisions involving railroad rights of way. The issue is of concern to legislators outside of California, said Slater, because the 2015 BLM decision potentially could affect use of all railroad rights of way in the West.

Matt Lee-Ashley, a former Interior Department official, said that what Cadiz was doing was typical during a White House transition. “Anytime an administration turns over, anyone who had a project with an unfavorable ruling will try to make another run at it,” said Lee-Ashley, who worked in Interior during the Obama administration and now is public lands director at the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group.

Yet even though Cadiz has new friends in a Trump administration, it may not be enough to counter the company’s most formidable foe: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who wrote the Desert Protection Act of 1994 and has long been the Mojave’s guardian. She has the ear of ranchers and conservationists who fear that Cadiz’s pumping project could damage the desert’s range lands and ecosystems.

Cadiz disputes those claims, arguing that it will be withdrawing only water – enough to supply 100,000 homes yearly – that would otherwise evaporate from lake beds in the desert. So far, however, Cadiz has been unable to win over California’s senior senator, who succeeded this year in persuading President Barack Obama to create three new national monuments in the Mojave, totaling more than 1.3 million acres.

Things could also get complicated if David Bernhardt, Slater’s colleague at the Brownstein firm, takes a top job at Interior. Brownstein’s 250 lawyers represent scores of clients, and the firm runs a political action committee that has given more than $513,000 to federal candidates and members of Congress since 2014.

According to a recent report in Energy and Environmental News, Bernhardt is a front-runner to serve as deputy to Ryan Zinke, a Montana congressman who is Trump’s interior secretary nominee.

Late last year, Bernhardt withdrew his registration as a lobbyist. If he moved back to Interior, Bernhardt would have to recuse himself from Interior issues involving his former clients, including Westlands.

But it’s less clear whether he’d have to recuse himself from matters involving other Brownstein clients, of which there are many. Attempts by McClatchy to obtain White House clarification were unsuccessful.

Also unclear is how Cadiz’s project ended up on a list of “emergency and national security priority projects” distributed to the National Governors Association and reported by McClatchy. Slater suspects that Cadiz rose on someone’s radar after he made several presentations at infrastructure conferences last year, including one hosted by CG/LA Infrastructure Inc., a national consulting firm. CG/LA is headed by Norman F. Anderson, an infrastructure expert who has ties to Dan Slane, a real estate developer from Ohio who has been helping the Trump administration with transition work.

Anderson couldn’t be reached for comment, but in a telephone interview on Tuesday, Slane said he had met with Cadiz’s CEO and thought it had a worthy project.

“That’s one where they just need some help from us on the permitting side,” said Slane, adding that he thought the Trump administration “could help with expediting permitting.”

February 3, 2017

Utah Legislature votes to shed Bears Ears monument designation

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue
Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — An indignant Utah Senate voted 22-6 Friday to urge the unraveling of the Bears Ears National Monument designation in San Juan County, bristling at the process used under the Antiquities Act and what they say was indifference to a majority of statewide sentiment.

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, the Senate sponsor of HCR11, said if a monument designation had been made for the Bears Ears region via congressional legislation subsequently signed by the U.S. president, he wouldn't be arguing against the new monument.

"It's absolutely wrong," the Senate president said, asserting the legislative process was circumvented with one person's pen via presidential proclamation.

The 1.35 million-acre monument was created in late December by former President Barack Obama in the waning days of his administration and was largely seen as a poke in Utah's eye.

Obama was vacationing in Hawaii with his family over the holidays when the White House made the announcement on Dec. 28.

"I find it insulting that President Obama couldn't even interrupt his golfing in Hawaii" for the monument designation, said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.

Democratic opponents to the resolution, which had already passed in the House and was signed Friday night by Gov. Gary Herbert, pointed to the failure of the Public Lands Initiative to gain any traction as the impetus for the monument's creation.

The massive public lands bill carried by Republican Utah Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz proposed land uses covering 18 million acres in eastern Utah, including the Bears Ears region.

Instead of a monument designation, however, the bill called for two national conservation areas in the Bears Ears area that would have still allowed for multiple uses in a less restrictive land management strategy.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said the proposal turned into a game of politics and was never a sincere attempt by Bishop or others in Utah's congressional delegation to answer Native Americans' concerns in the region.

"The process fell apart and got all political," Dabakis said, earlier emphasizing the anti-Bears Ears resolution as a "dumb bill."

Niederhauser, joined by other colleagues, defended the initiative and said the legislation, while a messy exercise in compromise, is the right way to protect land.

"You say the process broke down and it did not get through Congress. That is not an argument," Niederhauser said. "It is not supposed to be easy."

"Two wrongs don't make a right," emphasized Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.

But Senate Minority Whip Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said the majority of people in her district — the hunters, the campers and the anglers — support the Bears Ears monument.

Mayne added that the only "stream" in her district is a canal, and outdoor spaces are valued.

"We have no place to go," she said. "It's hard for us."

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, the only Republican member of the Senate to vote against the resolution, said he had hoped for a compromise solution that stopped short of upending the entire designation.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, stressed that he supports monuments but said the rescission of the designation would allow parties to "reset the clock" and start a better process.

Friday's vote came after the Senate voted to suspend the rules and move the resolution to the front of the line. Its passage followed twin hearings before Senate committees on Thursday and passage in the House earlier this week in a fast-tracked process designed to deliver a strong message to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the White House.

Both HCR11 and a resolution to shrink the boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were requested for consideration before the Legislature by Utah's congressional delegation, who will wave the document as a flag in the war on federal "overreach."

Pro-monument group Utah Dine Bikeyah board members are marching out their own paperwork with a letter to Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke, imploring him to accompany them on a field trip to Bears Ears and attend a community meeting before making any decision.

"Grass-roots people who depend on this landscape every day would like the opportunity to explain why we have worked so hard and so long to create this first-ever Native American national monument that honors our history and points toward our future," the letter reads.

The organization invited Zinke to attend a Monument Valley community meeting and meet with tribal leaders to discuss the designation.

"We do not want any action that will change the boundary, deny the role of traditional knowledge, develop these lands, undermine local voices or disgrace our ancestors who still reside there. To truly appreciate what is at stake, you must see the landscape and you must hear the wisdom of elders for yourself," the letter states.

Utah Dine Bikeyah says it developed the monument proposal seven years ago at the request of local elders, and their input in the Public Lands Initiative process and other land management planning was either ignored or shut out.

Critics of the Native American tribal "movement" behind the Bears Ears campaign say that support was co-opted by environmental and conservation organizations that reasoned there was a better chance for a monument if it came gift wrapped with a distinct cultural bow.

Both sides in the monument debate claim support from local tribal members or grass-roots people.