Latest News from Arizona Cattlemen's Association


Date: 2/5/2018 12:00:00 AM

Title: IBLA Reverses Injunction Decision on AZ BLM Allotment, Paving Way for Well Development

The Western Resources Legal Center (WRLC) obtained a favorable, precedent-setting decision from the Department of the Interior's Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) against the Western Watersheds Project (WWP). The IBLA reversed an administrative law judge's decision to enjoin construction of a solar-powered upland well on the Twin C Allotment near Clifton, AZ that is operated by Carolyn and Manuel Manuz. After several rounds of delays caused by the administrative appeals process, the Manuzes can now complete construction of the well, which was initially authorized by BLM in 2011. The victory is significant since the IBLA rarely reverses an administrative law judge and has only done so in 15% of its cases.

 

Overall, the Goat Camp Well project is great for the Manuzes and their cattle operations, and great for the protected resources and wildlife in the area-which has made WWP's opposition so vexing. The solar-powered upland well will reduce the Manuzes' reliance on a diesel-powered well that is adjacent to the Gila River, making livestock watering more efficient and demonstrating the Manuzes' remarkable stewardship of rangeland resources.

 

Despite the conservation benefits, WWP has been fighting the Goat Camp Well project since BLM first approved it in 2011. The crux of WWP's legal challenge is that BLM should have evaluated the project's impacts on riparian areas using BLM's rangeland health assessment standards. WWP had argued that well construction activities would have an "immediate, irreparable impact" on the environment and requested a "stay order" to halt construction until the case is fully resolved.

 

The administrative law judge (ALJ) held that WWP was likely to succeed on the merits of its argument that BLM was required to evaluate the impact of the well on riparian areas located three miles away. The ALJ's decision served as an automatic stay based on a possible NEPA violation, contrary to legal precedent requiring demonstration of likely irreparable harm before a preliminary injunction may be issued.

 

WRLC filed an appeal and the IBLA rejected WWP's argument. In reversing the ALJ on the injunction issue, the IBLA explained:

 

We disagree with the ALJ's conclusion that a stay is warranted because of a "potential harm that flows from a violation of NEPA." There must be a likelihood of immediate and irreparable harm, which WWP has not shown. We see no irreparable environmental harm from BLM's completion of the Well. The wellhead is already installed; it is adjacent to an existing gravel road, water tank, and trough; it is at least three miles away from any riparian or wetland area; and it will result in decreased use and maintenance of the River Well, reducing disturbance to the yellow-billed cuckoo bird, which is listed as endangered pursuant to the Endangered Species Act.

 

The Manuzes may now resume construction activities while the merits of WWP's underlying challenge are argued. WRLC is optimistic that the ALJ will rule in favor of BLM and the Manuzes.

 

It is WRLC's honor to represent ranchers and stewards like the Manuzes from Clifton, AZ. Additional thanks to Patrick Bray, of the Arizona Cattle Growers' Association, for alerting WRLC as to the Manuzes' situation.

 

Best regards,

 

Caroline Lobdell

Executive Director, Western Resources Legal Center