- By Levi Rickert
FARMINGTON, N.M. — With the federal social distancing order in place because of the COVID-19, the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) is seeking an extension for the 90-day comment period to protect the Chaco Culture National Historical Park that is under threat by the Trump administration.
Last month, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management Farmington Field Office and Bureau of Indian Affairs Navajo Regional Office released a draft Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA) with a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), triggering a 90-day public comment period ending May 28th.
Given drastic change in normal lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the All Pueblo Council of Governors says its ability to protect Chaco protection efforts has been significantly reduced.
“[The All Pueblo Council of Governors] and its member Pueblos play a critical role in the RMPA process, and meaningful consultation is required by multiple federal statutes and executive order. Currently, at the direction of the President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America and the recommendation of New Mexico Executive and Public Health Orders, many Pueblos and Tribes have closed non-essential tribal government operations and redirected time and resources to providing critical emergency and community services.
“For many, this means staff who would be directly working on federal administrative processes related to the RMPA, including our Tribal Historic Preservation Officers and environmental department staff, are not available,” Chairman J. Michael Chavarria, All Pueblo Council of Governors said.
Last week, the issued a letter to DOI Secretary Bernhardt requesting DOI act immediately to reassess tribal consultation and public involvement timetables and deadlines associated with the RMPA. In the letter, APCG urged DOI to take the following actions:
- Extend the 90-day public comment period for the draft RMPA and associated environmental impact statement by at least 120-days and postpone any related meetings or calls set to take place in the near future;
- Extend deadlines set related to the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 Process, in particular the completion of the draft programmatic agreement, and postpone any related meetings or calls set to take place in the near future; and
- Reevaluate deadlines in light of any additional changes to federal and state public health orders and guidelines regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The APCG was not alone in its call for an extension. The New Mexico Congressional Delegation, environmental and archaeological conservation organizations sent similar letters calling for extension of the comment period by at least 120 days.
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