When the hot, dry summer winds that sweep through the Mono Basin with great regularity encounter a spark of fire, a wildfire can spread across dozens of acres of sagebrush and bitterbrush in a few minutes.
That’s exactly what Mono City residents have worried about for years, a worry made more pronounced by the fact that there is only one good road going in and out of the community.
Although the community has long sought a second emergency-only access road, regulatory issues with both Caltrans and the Bishop office of the Bureau of Land Management—along with some internal community divisions about where the road should go and what kind of road it should be—have prevented a full resolution to the problem, according to county officials.
On Tuesday, the simmering issue came to a head at the Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting. By the time the item had run its course, at least one supervisor had accused the land managing agencies of extortion, more than two hours had passed by, several residents had pled their case and a final solution was still not immediately at hand.
“I just want to be sure that the road (that eventually is chosen) is an emergency access road only,” said resident Deanna Dulen. “And maybe we should begin talking about a comprehensive fire safety plan for Mono City. Having another road access is not the only solution.
“Caltrans should have paid for this,” said Supervisor Tim Fesko, referring to a request to rehabilitate an existing and unused road as mitigation for a proposed road that would require some new construction. “It’s just not right. It’s almost extortion.”
“Maybe a bulldozer after midnight would be the right solution,” said Supervisor Fred Stump with some humor, referring to a group of boulders blocking a road that could possibly be used as a emergency access road until a permanent solution was found.
“I’ve heard of boulders doing that,” said Larry Primosch, the BLM representative at the meeting.
In the end, the supervisors agreed to ask the BLM and Caltrans to work with the county to negotiate a mitigation package that would satisfy the two agencies, would not be too onerous for the county and to work toward a short-term solution in the meantime that would make the community safer in case of a wildfire.