Pictured: Parcel of land being encroached upon./
Be it 30, 20 or five years, the Bureau of Land Management has put off dealing with an encroachment issue in the McGee Creek Area of Crowley for way too long. At least that’s what residents at the McGee Creek RV and Mobile Home Park believe.
At a meeting Tuesday at the Crowley Lake Community Center those residents, as well as Mono County employees and Mono County District 2 Supervisor Fred Stump met with BLM employees to hear why the agency chose now to pick at an encroachment issue that has been going on for years.
BLM Bishop Field Manager Bernadette Lovato explained that her planned departure in May wasn’t the reason behind dealing with this issue now.
“I knew this issue was out there,” Lovato, who has held her current position for about three years and will head to Carson City BLM in May, said to the group of approximately 20. “But until I had the confidence of a land survey, I couldn’t go to anyone and point out the public land boundary.”
Over the years, residents at the mobile home park have steadily encroached on BLM land that abuts the park property. Now, the BLM wants its property back because the encroachments put BLM out of compliance with its land use plan, which says that area is to be maintained as animal habitat.
“We have two issues,” Lovato said. “We have to protect wildlife habitat and we can’t allow unauthorized uses.”
Property owners John Neubauer and Greg Jennison, as well as the owners of the mobile homes that abut the BLM land now understand the encroachment issue, but don’t understand why it took the BLM so long to address, allowing them to continue to use the property over the years without saying anything – until now.
“The government likes to just wash its hands of things, which is why this is tough,” Neubauer said. “If this was private land you would have lost it. BLM hasn’t done its job, which is why this is a big deal.”
Others asked question such as “Why did it take 30 years to do a survey?” and “What’s the urgency now when you haven’t been ensuring wildlife protection for 30 years?”
The timeframe was debated between the audience and BLM Realty Specialist Larry Primosch.
Lovato first said that the issue had been going on since the late ‘90s but then later said 30 years of encroachment while Primosch said he hadn’t taken a look at the boundary until 2007.
One mobile home owner who purchased within the last decade said she was not made aware of the encroachment and would not have purchased her property if she had known. Her portion of the encroachment includes trees that are at least 20 years old and which many people at the meeting referred to as an indicator of how long the issue had been going on.
Lovato explained that while the issue did precede her, she is responsible for compliance, which is why she is dealing with the issue now. She also said that the survey was completed in July 2012.
“I didn’t want to bring it to you last August because you would have said the snow’s going to fly and turned it into a political issue,” Lovato said to the group. “I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to wait for better weather.” Lovato had, however, already been speaking with the Mono County over the last few months.
The group was not sympathetic and Kay Moss, who has a traveling petting zoo and houses her animals on the encroachment site, accused Lovato of waiting in order to get Mono County on her side and then ambush the residents.
Mono County representatives explained that the County has no jurisdiction on BLM land and were simply present to act as a resource.
“You should check with us when you move [your stuff] to make sure there are no violations,” said County Development Director Scott Burns. “You don’t want to move from one issue to another.”
Lovato explained that the residents would be given a 90-day grace period to move their stuff or else the BLM would initiate a trespass complainy. Lovato said the 90 days would begin April 1, but some owners explained that they still had no idea where the property lines lay.
Primosch explained that not all properties had been surveyed and he was working on getting a cadastral surveyor out to finish up.
Even without the work completed Primosch tried to say that the BLM would move forward with the April 1 start date of the 90-days no matter what.
“Just plan to start moving things,” he said.
That’s when Supervisor Stump, who told The Sheet on Wednesday that he acknowledges BLM’s right to do what they are doing but does not actively support it, stood up.
“It seems reasonable to move the 90 days back until the survey is complete,” Stump said. “It’s not your decision but hers,” he added meaning since Lovato is the Field Manager she is Primosch’s boss and would make the final decision.
As everyone looked at Lovato for a final answer she finally caved in the tiniest bit.
“I can’t control the cadastral guy so we could shift the start date of the 90 days a week or two if the survey can’t get done in time. I can commit to that if you commit to letting the surveyors into your yards and going by the boundaries that are set.”
Lovato explained what the homeowners could expect after the 90-days are up.
“On day 91, we start sending letters to anyone who still has things on the property,” Lovato said. “Residents have 15 days to meet with the BLM to make a case as to why they don’t agree. If the BLM is not convinced then it goes to trespass. That decision is appealable.”
She added that once the situation reaches formal trespass there could be damages in the form of back rent assessed on the properties. Throughout the meeting Lovato encouraged the public to come to her office and talk with her one on one, but not many seemed interested.
Several times the subjects of leasing and compromise options were brought up.
Neubauer asked if BLM would be willing to negotiate with the current owners to allow things to stay where they are until the properties changed hands and then new owners would have to honor the boundary line. Another resident asked if he could get a special use permit to keep his ham cell tower on the BLM property since it was a benefit to the community. Both were essentially shot down.
“Everyone acknowledged that they had the right to do what they are doing but they were just looking for a little consideration,” Stump concluded on Wednesday. “They didn’t get much.”