The residents of the tiny community of Baker at the entrance to Great Basin National Park can breathe a little easier now.
David Sturlin, chairman of the Baker Water and Sewer General Improvement District, reports that the Bureau of Land Management has granted a permit to replace the town’s leaking 250,000-gallon water tank that sits on BLM land and the district signed a contract this past week with a company out of Sparks to do the work.
The district plans to build a new water tank on a 30-by-100-foot site next to the current tank and then demolish the old tank. The district’s board had received fast track approval for a loan from the State Revolving Fund, which receives funding under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, contingent upon receipt of a BLM permit.
That permit appeared to be in jeopardy this past fall when the Interior Department, of which the BLM is a division, decided the greater sage grouse would not be listed under the Endangered Species Act but instead issued thousands of pages of land use restrictions as a means of protecting the bird.
When water district board members met with a BLM representative, they were hit with a list of demands and told an expensive and time-consuming environmental impact statement would be needed due to those new grouse regulations.
The plight of the Baker water district was even brought up as an issue in a federal lawsuit by the state, Elko, Eureka, Churchill, Humboldt, Lander, Lincoln, Pershing, Washoe and White Pine counties, as well as three mining companies and a ranch attempting to get a federal judge to block the land use plan because of the harm it was causing. A federal judge declined to do so.
But Michael Herder, BLM Ely District manager, said this past week that those issues have been resolved and a permit has been granted.
“The construction plan is consistent with the sage grouse conservation measures that are in the land use plans that we have,” Herder said. “We did grant an early start date so they are going to start around June 1st.”
He said this is so the Baker water district can get the new tank constructed and the old tank removed all in one season, thus minimizing the impact on sage grouse. He said it saves the district some money and provided the minimal impact on the grouse.
“It worked out really well. It’s a win-win situation at least from our perspective,” Herder said.
Sturlin said, “The BLM has given us an early start date. We are going to try to meet that June 1st date and get the thing started as rapidly as possible.”
He believes the project can be completed by October. “June to October is the window that we’re shooting for,” he said, adding that they think they can do the painting in September, especially if they have an Indian summer, and then in October they can do the certifying and testing, even if it’s cold, so long as the paint is cured.
When the contractor does the cross connection of the new tank to the water pipeline, the old tank will be removed quickly, Sturlin said.
He also said the people at the State Revolving Fund, which is funding the project, have been “super partners” in this.
“Basically, this is a grant,” the chairman said. “It’s a 100 percent forgiveness on this tank replacement. They came up with the funds and they bumped us up in the priority and everything. State Revolving Fund really should get a pat on the back.”
Though there was considerable trepidation earlier this year over the impact the Interior Department’s new sage grouse land use plan might have on the project, Sturlin said, “I believe the local people with the BLM really, really helped us out a lot. I believe they’re going to be real easy to work with going forward.”
The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund is providing more than $640,000 to pay for the new welded steel storage tank for the Baker water district.
Sturlin said the local BLM officials are as interested in getting the project done as are the people of Baker, “I think we’ve got a good partnership going right now.”
A version of this column appears this week many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.