Testimony of John H. Milton, III
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Transportation, Infrastructure, and Nuclear Safety
Senator Reid, members of the Committee, good afternoon. My name is John H. Milton, III and I am the senior member of the Humboldt County, Nevada, Commission and a member of the Board of Directors of the Nevada Association of Counties. Thank you for the opportunity to spend a few minutes discussing “Western Transportation Issues” and the Federal Lands Highway Program in particular.
As you are aware Senator Reid, over 87% of the land in our state is managed and controlled by the Federal Government. The majority of this land accessed over County maintained roads. Most of these roads are gravel which require a high level of maintenance. In Humboldt County, we have 941 miles of County maintained roads in our system. Of that amount 669 miles, or 71% of our system, serve Federal lands. These lands do not generate revenue, which can be used for the building new roads or the maintaining of existing roads.
In reviewing the Federal Lands Highway program, I noticed that the majority of this money goes into the Public Lands Highway category. In that category, 66% goes to Forest Highways and 33% goes to the discretionary program. In Humboldt County and the majority of Nevada, the Department of the Interior is the manager of the Federal Lands and they receive no funding in this program.
In Nevada, there are approximately 61.7 million acres of federal land of which 51.1 million acres are administered by the Department of the Interior, primarily BLM. I would recommend that in the reauthorization you consider a new category related to these lands which similar to current categories for Refuge Roads, and Park Roads and Parkways.
The Sheldon Antelope Refuge is the only wildlife refuge located in Humboldt County. Access to this refuge is via a County Road. We believe we should be allowed to access the Refuge Road Category for improvements to this County Road. We currently receive $5,000 a year in revenue sharing from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but return $2,500 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the maintenance of the Virgin Valley Campground. This does not leave much for maintenance of the roads leading to or within the refuge.
In April of 2000, I appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Forest and Public Land Management to testify on the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA). At that time one of the concerns I expressed was access to the NCA via our county road system. That bill became law and my concerns have not gone away. Most, if not all, of the major access points are reached by County Roads. Many of these are Humboldt County Roads, including the Cedarville Road which provides access to the NCA and the Sheldon Antelope Range, and the 95-mile road from Winnemucca to Gerlach which provides access to the entire southern boundary of the NCA. We expect the use of these roads to increase dramatically; the cost to maintain them will also increase. Improving these roads to handle increased traffic is beyond our means. For example, the estimate we obtained to upgrade the road from Winnemucca to Gerlach to an all weather road exceeds seven million dollars. This does not include the $480,000 cost for cultural clearance, right of way acquisition, gravel pit development, and water sources or the $200,000.00 annual cost for maintenance. This road crosses three Counties, none of which can afford to spend this type of money. Although roads such as these serve federal lands, Humboldt County maintains them with no assistance from the federal government.
The access to the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Humboldt County is also via our County Road system. We maintain approximately 44.1 additional miles within the Forest under agreement with the Forest Service. In exchange, the Forest Service maintenance crew undertakes projects on the County roads leading to the National Forest to offset our costs incurred by the County for the requested maintenance.
In conclusion, I would ask that you give strong consideration in the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century (TEA-21) by addressing the concerns I have expressed today. In particular I would ask that a category be created to address the vast holdings of the Department of the Interior. Also that the public roads maintained by someone other than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service be allowed to utilize the money in Refuge Roads category.
Thank you for the opportunity to address you concerning the Federal Lands Highway Program today and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have at this time.