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Tim Fesko’s ‘Excellent Adventure’

March 13, 2014

BRIDGEPORT—It could have been an ordinary, ho-hum trip Back East.

But when Mono County Supervisor Tim Fesko is involved, hardly anything seems ordinary, and there is no ho-hum in his makeup.

Room reservation for the National Association of Counties Convention?

Cancelled, for unexplained reasons.

A five-inch snowfall that paralyzed the federal government?

Check.

The nearly impossible task of educating America on the perils of the Bi-State Sage Grouse Listing?

Don’t get him started.

When it was all said and done, Fesko, along with County Administrator Jim Leddy, returned home to Mono County last week after four whirlwind days inside the Beltway, he said it was all worth it.

“It was a great conference,” he said in his report to the Board of Supervisors at its meeting here on Tuesday, March 11.

“I learned a lot there. What it showed me more than anything else was something I’ve been saying all along, and that’s if we want to have any input on what happens on the federal level, we need to be a player regarding NACO, and especially when they do their legislative conferences.”

Fesko and Leddy completed eight meetings on Capitol Hill, meeting with the staff of both California senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer; the staff of both Nevada senators, Harry Reid and Dean Holler; and the staffs of congressmen Paul Cook and Buck McKeon (California), and Steve Horsford (Nevada).

“We had no context back there,” Fesko said after the meeting. “Now, we do. This was really a groundbreaking for us. It’s not just about one trip.”

At the top of Mono County’s five major talking points was a plan that would prevent an endangered species listing of the Bi-State Sage Grouse, and all of the impacts that such a listing would have in Mono County.

He said to make a five-year “solution” to the issue would take money, but that there may be funds available—maybe—from disparate agencies that before now, had not figured in the mix.

Those funds might come, for example, from the Defense Department, which operates the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center near Coleville, and from appropriations lifted from the Farm Bill, which passed earlier this year.

Fesko said each of the congressional staffs had a handle on the issue, but the county presented the staffs with a solution, crafted by Scott Burns and Wendy Sugimura of the Mono County planning department.

“Lots of people go back there and ask for money,” Fesko said, “and a lot of times they don’t even know what the money would go for.

“The fact that we were able to present the issue, then outline the steps for a solution, was really in our favor.”

He said other talking points were covered well, too, including the House bill that, if passed by the Senate, would allow for a Forest Service land exchange with Mammoth Mountain Ski Area to allow Mono County’s largest economic engine to move forward in the re-development of the Main Lodge area.

Another of the talking points had to do with the complicated transfer of funds in the form of the so-called “Payment in Lieu of Property Taxes” (PILT), which was handled on a national NACO level, and issues relating to broadband and cell phone technologies in rural areas.

But the real adventure aspects of the trip really did not have a lot to do with arm-twisting and jawboning, he said. It had more to do with the spectacle of it all.

“I ended up going to the Environment, Energy and Land Steering Committee,” he said, “and there were probably about 120 people sitting at a roundtable in the room.

“I wasn’t on that committee, so I couldn’t speak, but one of the items had to do with the sage grouse.

“They were trying to get a resolution passed to get NACO to take a stand on the sage grouse. So this debate was going back and forth, and opinion on one side was, ‘Well, if the EPA says this, we should just take them at their word. Who are we to question the government on all of this?’

“You could really tell they were the urbanites rather than on the rural side of the room, and we were about 25 minutes into this discussion, and one woman who was very vocal—she had spoken three or four times—and she said, ‘I have a question! What IS a sage grouse, anyway?’

“So it was a pure example of why we need a spot at the table, so we can discuss our issues. This particular meeting had to do with the Greater Sage Grouse, which affects multiple states, but the point is that unless we want to be a player and actually have a voice, we need to step up.”

Then there was the snowstorm, which dumped four to five inches of snow on Washington on the first full day of the conference.

“I have to say,” Fesko said, “that it’s really discouraging that when you’re in the nation’s capitol, four inches of snow literally shuts down the federal government.

“I actually got a message on my phone saying we wouldn’t have maid service that day because the housekeeping staff couldn’t make it in. I mean, it’s amazing.”

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