Elkhorn Ranch Update

Last winter I wrote a series of articles about the outrageous proposal to mine gravel on the ridge above the Elkhorn Ranch site of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, on the banks of the Little Missouri River. The Elkhorn Ranch, you probably know, was the home of President Theodore Roosevelt when he lived and ranched in Dakota Territory in the 1880’s. It’s a sacred place to conservationists of all stripes. You can read the articles as a refresher if you want, by clicking here, here, here and here,)

The land is owned by the U.S. Forest Service. The minerals are not. One of the private mineral owners, a fellow named Roger Lothspeich from Miles City, Montana, in a fit of nouveau riche bullying, is blackmailing the Forest Service, asking for millions of dollars to NOT dig the gravel. The Forest Service is not giving in. They just conducted an environmental assessment on Lothspeich’s application to dig his gravel. Actually, in a tax dodge, he’s given the minerals to his girlfriend, a lady named Peggy Braunberger, and it’s her application the Forest Service is assessing.

The Forest Service has posted the Environmental Assessment on its website, which you can see by going here, and it is now soliciting comments, through about June 10 (I can’t find the exact date in the report, but it’s 30 days after it was issued, which was about May 14). Once the comment period is over, the Forest Service might make a few minor changes, and then grant a permit to mine. That’s when we get ready to out to the Bad Lands and sit down in front of the bulldozer.

I hope you’ll take a look at the report and, if you are so inclined, let the Forest Service know what you think of this idea. It just seems to be another in the continuing threat to the Bad Lands—Bullion Butte, Little Missouri State Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park—posed by this out-of-control oil boom in western North Dakota. Yes, this proposed gravel mine can be attributed to the oil boom—oil companies need gravel, and lots of it, to build roads to their drilling sites, and it’s commanding premium prices these days.

I’m going to write some more about this in the next couple of weeks, after I get some answers to some questions from the Forest Service, but I want to make you aware of this now, so you can join the comment process. For now, I am going to share the letter I sent in as my formal comments as a private citizen concerned about the Elkhorn Ranch, affectionately known as the “Cradle of Conservation” because it is where Roosevelt formed the ideas that made him the greatest conservation president ever. You can direct your comments to the same place I sent mine.

Ronald W. Jablonski, Jr., District Ranger

Medora Ranger District

99 23rd Ave. West, Suite B

Dickinson, ND 58601

May 29, 2012

Dear Mr. Jablonski,

            As a pretty harsh critic of the Forest Service in my earlier comments on the Braunberger Gravel Permit Application, let me compliment the Forest Service on what they have done to make sure this project, when and if it goes forward, is done as responsibly as possible. I will be extremely disappointed if it goes forward, as I agree with the eloquent statement submitted by your cooperating agency, the National Park Service, that “a gravel mine on the prominent bluff across the Little Missouri River from the Elkhorn Ranch would ruin the very experience that the visitors go to the Elkhorn Ranch to find.”

            Having said that, I still have many unanswered questions, both from my earlier letters to you, which went unanswered, both personally and in the report, and as a result of reading the environmental assessment.

  1.   The Environmental Assessment says “the producing tenant is entitled to offset expenses incurred like taxes and insurance.” So who actually keeps the books?
  • Who determines exactly what expenses are allowed? Will the public be allowed to monitor that process?
  • To make sure the other mineral owners are being looked out for, who makes sure the mining is done in the most cost effective manner?
  • Who makes sure there is a public bidding process on the work and materials, to guarantee that the other minerals owners get the best possible deal?
  • Who inspects every invoice to make sure they are accurate?
  • Who keeps track of the “cash register receipts” when the gravel is sold?
  • Who will guarantee that all checks received in payment for gravel get recorded?
  • Who monitors how much gravel comes out?
  • When a load of gravel is sold, will the income be reported to the Forest Service in detail, like who bought it, so there can be third party monitoring to make sure the records are accurate? Will the Forest Service provide third-party monitoring? Judging from the in-your-face comments by Ms. Braunberger’s boyfriend, Roger Lothspeich, it’s pretty obvious he can’t be trusted to do all this. If the Forest Service has no financial stake in all of this, will the Forest Service be willing to assign someone to work with Ms. Braunberger to insure accurate records are kept? If not, who is looking out for the interests of the other mineral owners, who apparently have no interest in mining this gravel and against whose wishes this is being done?

2.  After all the work is done, the mining expenses paid, and Ms. Braunberger takes her 27 per cent out of the till, how does the remainder of the money get delivered to the remaining mineral owners? The EA says the title search is not complete on the remaining minerals. Please explain exactly what happens to the remaining 73 per cent of the money, both in the short term and in the long term.

3. On page 9 of the document, it says that Ms. Braunberger must assume all responsibility to notify the other mineral owners and account for the proceeds due them. That brings up a number of questions:

  • Who will guarantee that Ms. Braunberger notifies the other mineral owners?
  • Who will determine exactly how much each person gets (again, see question 1)?
  • Who will monitor the payments to other mineral owners?
  • Who are the other mineral owners identified so far? Is that list available, along with the percentages they own? How do I get it?
  • When does that process commence?
  • Who assures timely payments?

4. In the newspaper, Mr. Lothspeich said he spent $150,000 to get to this point. However, he does not now own the minerals, apparently. Ms. Braunberger does, according to what I read. If those were not her expenses, then she should not be allowed any offset of those expenses. So any responsibility for Mr. Lothspeich recovering his personal investment would seem to me to be the responsibility of Ms. Braunberger alone, from her share, 27 per cent of the proceeds from the sale of the gravel, if she chooses to do so, and not by the other mineral owners. It goes back to question 1—who keeps the books?


5. Earlier I asked, and did not receive an answer: Is Ms. Braunberger’s application available for inspection? Are copies of all correspondence between the Forest Service and Mr. Lothspeich and Ms.Braunberger and/or their representatives available for inspection? Please tell me how I may do that.

6. Are all 71 public comments received earlier, and all new comments received in this round, available for public inspection? Please tell me how I may do that.

7. Is a copy of the Operating Plan available? Please tell me how I may get that.

8. What is the Project Record referred to on page 15? Is it available for public inspection? How do I do that?

Finally, on page 11, you have determined Ms. Braunberger’s ownership as 26.860173 percent. That’s figured down to one millionth of one per cent. How the heck did you do that?

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. I believe I have submitted legitimate questions and I believe that the answers to them will help guarantee that the public’s best interests are being looked out for in this matter. I look forward to a response.

 Respectfully,

 Jim Fuglie

            I mailed that letter today. It is the third letter I have sent them with questions about this project. I have yet to receive a response, despite a phone call to their office asking for one. I know they’re a little busy with a little oil activity going on around them right now, but still . . . I’ll let you know how this one comes out.

Oh, and by the way, in one of my earlier articles, I speculated that Roger Lothspeich, the dude behind all of this, might be an asshole (you kind of have to read my first article to put that in perspective). Well, let me put an end to the speculation: He is an asshole. Read this Facebook posting from Kris Kitko, one of North Dakota’s leading environmental voices (you can check out her website, the Bakken Watch, here): 

Roger Lothspeich, sent me some nasty mail a while back. He owns mineral rights in a place that’s near Theo. Roos. Park. If mined for gravel for fracking, pristine beauty in the area would be destroyed. Theo Roos Park is opposed to any mining there. So…do you trust this guy or anything he says when behind the scenes he sends emails like this? (copied & pasted): “Kris, You need to go back to the east coast. You are not welcome in ND you worthless piece of shit!!!” …..BTW, he just found me online and sent that; I’ve never had any contact w/ him.

            See? Told you so.

But to end this piece on a much more pleasant note, let me conclude with a quote from the Forest Service’s Environmental Assessment of Lothspeich’s proposal. The National Park Service, because it manages the Elkhorn Ranch site right across the river from this proposed gravel pit, was asked to comment on the gravel mine proposal. Here’s what the NPS said—I suspect it was written by my friend Valerie Naylor, the Park Superintendent.

            “The Elkhorn Ranch is the National Park Service’s (NPS) most remote and historically significant unit of the park. The goal of the NPS at the Elkhorn Ranch is to preserve the land as closely as possible to the way Theodore Roosevelt experienced it in 1884.Visitors go to the Elkhorn Ranch to reflect on Theodore Roosevelt and his conservation ethic, for it was at the Elkhorn Ranch that he developed many of his ideas on conservation. Roosevelt wrote profusely and with great insight while he was there. Over the years, many Roosevelt enthusiasts, authors, politicians and typical park visitors have specifically gone to the Elkhorn Ranch to see what Roosevelt saw and feel what Roosevelt felt. They go to the Elkhorn Ranch to experience the solitude that TR was seeking when he established his home there. They go to hear the natural sounds that he wrote about in his books: Cottonwood leaves, the Little Missouri River, and the songs of birds. They go to experience a quiet that they may never have experienced before. The viewshed and soundscape is critical to this visitor experience. A gravel mine on the prominent bluff across the Little Missouri River from the Elkhorn Ranch would ruin the very experience that the visitors go to the Elkhorn Ranch to find.”

            Amen

 

 

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