The Washington, D.C., Office of the Bureau of Land Management has approved the feasibility study for the proposed Emerald Mountain land exchange.
The federal approval will allow the BLM field office to begin its public process for the land exchange that will transfer 106 parcels and 14,977 acres of BLM land to private ownership and put the ownership of the 6,345-acre Emerald Mountain in BLM hands.
The money generated from selling BLM land to private owners will be given to the State Land Board, which owns Emerald Mountain.
The land exchange has been in the works for more than two years, but this is the official start of the public process where BLM will take public comment on environmental concerns for land proposed in the trade and the use of Emerald Mountain.
The Washington office notified the participants of the approval Monday.
Once the exchange goes through the public process at the local level, it must return to the state and federal offices for final approval, said Phillis Bowers from the Little Snake Office.
John Husband, head of the Little Snake Office, would make the final determination on how BLM would manage the Emerald Mountain property.
The Emerald Mountain Partnership has been waiting seven months for the Washington D.C. approval. In December, the state office gave its approval and passed it to the federal level.
Ben Beall, chairman of Emerald Mountain Partnership, said the organization knew it would be a long, complicated process.
"It seemed to be taking longer than we thought," Beall said "We are excited. It is a big step. Everything up to this point has been preliminary."
Properties will start being assessed this summer for the final land trade, Beall said.
The Emerald Mountain Partnership has been working on a management plan that it will give the BLM, which will be used as one of the agency's alternatives. The plan looks at wildlife, hunting, livestock grazing, public recreation, education, wildland fire and forest and woodlands.
The partnership's management proposal will be presented at a community meeting at 7 p.m. July 29 in Centennial Hall. The meeting will include representatives from BLM, who will explain the exchange process and outline the dates and timeline for the public process.
Emerald Mountain Partnership had a March 2005 deadline with the state land board for finishing the land exchange, but Beall said it could be extended to 2006 if due diligence is shown.
Public opposition has already been raised through Citizens to Save Our Public Lands. Formed last May, the group is opposed to the trade, which they fear will take away public access to BLM land used by county residents.
Rebecca Rolando, who helps head the organization, said the group continues to oppose the trade and has written a letter asking for a year delay so other funding opportunities can be explored.
"This is a long ways from over," Rolando said.
Beall said that the land exchange has garnered great support from local groups and local and state elected officials.
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