Environment

Fight to keep Skinny Dipper Hot Springs open continues despite setbacks

The people trying to keep Skinny Dipper Hot Springs open are getting a lesson in federal bureaucracy.

Late last week, the head of the local U.S. Bureau of Land Management office sent a letter to the advocate group Growing Change, saying he couldn’t accept a document from the group outlining proposals for long-term public use of the hot springs.

The proposals “lack the specificity required to adequately address the environmental and management concerns,” Tate Fischer, manager of the BLM’s Four Rivers Field Office, said in his letter.

In April, Fischer announced that he would close Skinny Dipper due to concerns about human health, safety and the degradation of nature around the hot springs, located about four miles east of Banks in the mountains north of the South Fork of the Payette River. Growing Change filed an appeal of that decision in May, as well as a request for a stay of the closure process until the Interior Board of Land Appeals, a panel that settles this kind of dispute, issues a decision on the appeal.

Skinny Dipper has remained open during the back and forth over its closure.

Fischer said he’s willing to keep Skinny Dipper open long term if he receives a proposal that addresses his concerns, such as how to remove or manage human feces near the hot springs, trail management, safety and the presence of illegally installed cement in the soaking pools and PVC pipes that divert hot and cold water into the pools.

If he doesn’t get an adequate plan, he’ll push forward with the process of closing Skinny Dipper for five years.

“If it comes down to not receiving a substantial application ... we probably start looking at removing the pipes in spring of 2016, and then re-vegetating the trail as the closure is in effect,” Fischer said.

Drama

Early this month, the land appeals board denied the request for stay. That sent a ripple of concern through the thousands of people that coalesced the last few months to keep the hot springs open.

“Cross your fingers and toes,” the “Save Skinny Dipper Hot Springs” Facebook page, which has almost 9,000 “likes,” told followers July 6. “We are still in this fight.”

Fischer’s letter brought a despondent response. A Monday post stated Fischer had “denied” the Growing Change proposal, even though Fischer’s letter said the BLM simply couldn’t consider the proposal because it didn’t follow federal government procedures.

“It seems they want to be able to say that nobody stepped up when in reality, they have not been willing to work with us from the beginning,” the Facebook post read. “Sadly, the closure of Skinny Dipper will be going forward. Hopefully the land will heal and after the 7-year rest period, the springs will open again with good stewardship.”

What’s next?

Not so fast, said Antonio Bommarito, executive director of Growing Change. Bommarito said Growing Change is working to resubmit the proposal. This time, he said, it’ll be more detailed and thorough.

“We originally got the feeling that we could just work directly with Tate, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to be the way it’s going to work out. ... As you can imagine, working with the government, they want everything outlined to a T, including maps of exact coordinates of the location in question,” Bommarito said. “We submitted like a three- or four-page document outlining their concerns and how we would resolve them. But, really, I think it needs to be more like a 20-page, really hearty document, which is going to take a long time to do.”

Bommarito said Growing Change is working with the same team of lawyers and law students that helped put together the original proposal, the request for a stay and the appeal.

Fischer said the closure process is moving independently of the decision on the appeal. He wasn’t immediately sure what would happen if the Board of Land Appeals upholds the appeal but announces such a decision after the physical closure of Skinny Dipper has already taken place.

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