Stupid and Ugly

Continuing with our discussion of the Seven Deadly Sins. Our revisionist group identified two more, pretty much unanimously, that should be submitted for ratification: Stupid, and Ugly.

Stupid, not in the sense of being born with diminished intellectual capabilities, but doing or saying things that just don’t make any sense to anyone, and should not have been done or said. Kind of like Tiger woods crashing his SUV into a tree and then telling the world he had been sleeping with women all over America. Both really stupid things to do.

Ugly, not in the sense of being born with unattractive personal physical characteristics, but more like an outcome that is just totally unacceptable, generally as a result of a really stupid act. Like the kind of baseball played by the Boston Red Sox in September of 2011, or the football played by the Minnesota Vikings so far this year. Really ugly baseball. And really ugly football.

You get the drift. Pretty obvious, and dreadful, sins.

Meanwhile, matters at hand. Gravel mining at the Elkhorn Ranch site.

Like most controversial stories, the story of Roger Lothspeich’s in-your-face scheme to mine gravel across the river from the Elkhorn Ranch site has more than one side. We agreed in a post earlier this week that one side of the story is the sin of being an asshole. Now, I submit, one of the other sides (there are several to this story) is the failure of the U.S. Forest Service to buy the minerals that Lothspeich now owns and plans to develop. That would involve the sins of stupid and ugly.

Stupid: “Forest Service district supervisor Ron Jablonski said the agency never made a formal offer for the mineral rights to the Ebertses or the Connells. ‘We thought at the time that the land was a good purchase for taxpayers,’ Jablonski said. ‘We had no idea that something like this would come up. We knew the potential was there, but we were willing to take the risk.'” — Associated Press, August 2009.

Ugly: If Lothspeich has his way, there will be mining operations directly across from the Theodore Roosevelt Elkhorn Cabin site for years and years to come as a result of the Forest Service’s willingness to “take the risk.”

More stupid: Arriving in the mail at our house on Thursday was a letter from the Forest Service that starts: “The Forest Service has received an Operating Plan (OP) from Ms. Peggy Braunberger, to mine gravel. Approval of the OP by the Forest Service is subject to terms and conditions that will provide for adequate protection and utilization of National Forest System (NFS) land and resources. The approved OP would permit the construction of the Elkhorn Gravel Pit (gravel pit) and use of existing roads to access the gravel pit and haul gravel.”

Braunberger is Lothspeich’s girlfriend. He said earlier that he had transferred ownership to her for “tax purposes”–meaning his lawyer has found a way for him to avoid paying some taxes.

The letter is an insult to the intelligence of the taxpayers who paid to save this place, and all the organizations and businesses who contributed money to help buy it. I almost gagged when I read it. It first describes the mining operation that is going to take place, in very matter-of-fact terms, like this is nothing unusual. “The intent of Ms. Braunberger’s proposal is to exercise her legal private mineral rights through the development of the gravel pit.” (Never mind that she–or, rather, Lothspeich–bought those legal private mineral rights AFTER the Forest Service bought the land in which those minerals are located.)

“The Forest Service is a multiple use agency and will maintain management authority . . .” (Don’t worry. Everything’s fine. We do stuff like this all the time. We’re in charge here.)

“Cultural, botany and wildlife surveys have been completed for the project.” (I’m gonna have to get those. What will years and years of mining do to the historical value, plant life and wildlife in this most fragile area of North Dakota? This is starting to sound like Lynn Helms, our chief oil cheerleader.)

“Roads (leading to the site) will be resurfaced with gravel. There will be a temporary road constructed within the (25-acre) gravel pit for hauling purposes. The gravel pit will be mined in four phases over a two year period, pending any weather or wildlife-related delays.” (Wildlife-related delays? WTF do you suppose that means?)

More Ugly: At least two years (likely longer–you can bet there will be “weather and wildlife-related delays”) of dozers and loaders and trucks and dust and gravel piles and noise, just at this first site–Lothspeich has said he will mine everywhere there’s gravel on this land, including, possibly, in the Little Missouri River bed. “The next gravel pit will likely be south of and much larger than the first and even closer to the Elkhorn Ranch, he (Lothspeich) said.” — Bismarck Tribune, October 6, 2011.

And then, just to reassure us this is really, really, really all right, the letter ends with two long paragraphs about how the land will be reclaimed and everything will be back to normal in short order. We won’t even really be able to tell that this all took place. Yeah, right. You ever seen a successful reclamation area in the Bad Lands?

That’s the gist of the letter. I received the same letter by e-mail later Thursday, from the Forest Service spokesperson who first told me that they would put information on their website for us to comment on, and then told me in the e-mail “it appears we might be having some challenges with posting the information . . .”

I’d think if they really wanted input on this from the citizenry, which they say they will take until November 4, they’d share the actual application from Ms. Braunberger, as well as their own summary of it. I’m guessing all that is public record, and would make us better informed as we submit our comments.

A couple of friends of mine suggested this is really a “black and white” issue. Lothspeich is trying to blackmail us, and the Forest Service is trying to whitewash it.

Stupid is the Forest Service’s pandering letter seeking comments. Who do they think they’re fooling? This is the land on which we spent four million taxpayer dollars and a million donated dollars to protect from development just four years ago. They didn’t bother to buy the minerals that went with it. But don’t worry, they say, gravel mining isn’t really all that bad. Do they think I’m stupid too? Do they think we’re all stupid?

Ugly is the feeling I get about how they have mismanaged this project. The Forest Service has owned this land for four and a half years, and there is still no management plan for the site.

Meanwhile, the Bismarck Tribune story Thursday has sparked national interest in this current crisis. The Associated Press did a follow-up story that has hit newspapers across the country. Stories have appeared on websites for CNBC, The Street, Bloomberg Business Daily, and in numerous publications around the country.

So, I repeat, I will put a link here to any information that the Forest Service puts on its website next week. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’m guessing their webmaster was not available to get it done Friday. But if you want to submit comments now, you can send them to:

Paula Johnston
USDA Forest Service –Dakota Prairie Grasslands
240 W. Century Avenue
Bismarck, ND 58503

Or e-mail them to:

You have until November 4 to comment. Please let them know how you feel.

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