The purpose of this post is to remind you that this is the week during which you need to submit comments to the U.S. Forest Service on the issue of mining gravel at Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch site. Comments should be submitted to Ron Jablonski at the address below (I listed the wrong address and contact person in an earlier blog,which I have since corrected). You can read the short scoping document for background on the issue here. For more background, you can also read my earlier blog posts on this by clicking here, here, or here.
I should mention there has been some progress in fighting this issue. Last week, the State Historic Preservation Board nominated the site for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Sometime in the next 2-3 months, that listing should become official. It doesn’t necessarily protect the area from gravel mining, but surely calls a lot more attention to it. Also last week, the Theodore Roosevelt Association,the Congressionally-chartered keeper of all things Theodore Roosevelt (and whose membership includes most current descendents of Theodore Roosevelt), agreed to submit comments to the Forest Service opposing the mining of the property, as did the Friends of the Elkhorn Ranch, the prestigious group whose members I listed for you here a couple weeks ago. I’ll try to get copies of their comments as soon as they are available and share them with you.
Meanwhile, just in case you need a little inspiration, I’m sharing with you below my own comments which I am sending in today. Please join me. We need all the help we can get.
Ronald W. Jablonski, Jr., District Ranger
Medora Ranger District
99 23rd Ave. West, Suite B
Dickinson, North Dakota 58601.
October 31, 2011
Dear Mr. Jablonski,
I am writing to submit comments on the scoping document posted on your website dated October 5, 2011, regarding the mining of surface minerals (gravel) by Ms. Peggy Braunberger on the Elkhorn Ranchlands site.
I am also enclosing copies of three blog posts from The Prairie Blog which I would like to submit as comments for the record as well.
First, let me say I am extremely disappointed that the Forest Service did not take steps to secure ownership of the surface minerals for the Elkhorn Ranchlands when these lands were acquired. They minerals were clearly available, and the comments by the Forest Service later that you were “willing to take the risk” that they would be developed shows an apparent casual disregard for the long term future of this place.
Second, although it is only a sidebar to the current issue, I urge you to complete a management plan for these lands. Four years ought to be long enough to get that done.
Now, matters at hand.
- I urge you to take all possible steps to limit surface mineral development here. I don’t need to remind you how significant a site this is to all Americans and that it has been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.
- Earlier, I asked one of your staff, Sherri Schwenke, a question about needing approval from other mineral owners before mining can start. I have not had a reply to that question. I’d certainly like to know, and others would as well, I think, whether one mineral owner can proceed to remove minerals without the approval from other mineral owners with whom they share the mineral ownership. I would like to be reassured that you have fully checked that legal matter before extraction begins.
- As you may know, the deadly mineral erionite has been found in many gravel deposits in western North Dakota. I hope before you allow mineral extraction that this gravel will be tested for erionite, and the results of those tests made public. As a public agency, I’d think you have a responsibility to warn the public if deadly minerals are being removed from your property, and where they are going.
- The person who initially bought these minerals from the Connells, Mr. Lothspeich, has stated publicly that he has transferred the ownership to his girlfriend “for tax purposes.” In spite of that, he continues to talk as if he owns these minerals himself. Consider the following quotes from various newspapers attributed to Mr. Lothspeich:
“I’m not blinking. I’m going to get my gravel or write me a check.”
“I’ll negotiate with anybody, but I’ll also mine at the drop of a hat,” he said.
Lothspeich said he is open to selling the surface rights, which include “coal, scoria, uranium, sand, gravel, the whole works,” to anyone who gives him $2.5 million. “If those tree-huggers want to write me a check, that’s OK too.”
“They’re (the Forest Service) jacking me around because they know I’ve got them over a barrel.”
(bold emphasis mine)
- In spite of those quotes (and many others in various other publications—this is just a representative sample), he admits he no longer owns the minerals, and your own scoping documents list Peggy Braunberger, apparently his girlfriend, as the applicant. What’s up with that? I hope you are dealing directly with this girlfriend and not him, if it is true he has no ownership. I also hope you will warn both of them of the consequences of cheating the IRS, and I hope that you will make the IRS, one of your fellow government agencies, aware of these shenanigans so they can watch the tax returns of Mr. Lothspeich and his girlfriend carefully. She should also be warned that people go to the pokey for dodging taxes, or being an accomplice to someone dodging taxes.
Those are my formal comments, but I strongly urge you to consider my earlier writings on the Prairie Blog on this the subject, in much more depth, as official comments as well.