Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dear Bureau of Land Management ...

Richard "Dugout Dick" Zimmerman in 2009.
Steve Ellis
Idaho State Director
Bureau of Land Management

Dear Mr. Ellis:

I wish to bring to your attention what I believe to be not only a disgraceful and mindless act by the Bureau of Land Management, but something that I believe constitutes the breaking of federal law.

As I'm sure you know, Richard "Dugout Dick" Zimmerman lived in a series of hand-made dugouts near the Salmon River on federal land between 1948 and his death in 2010. Sometime after his death, apparently without any public input or notice, these dugouts -- some of which were more than 60 years old -- were completely destroyed. I visited the site last weekend and was heartsick at finding it in its current state.

The federal National Historic Preservation Act requires that sites such as this must be preserved. My question is simple: Why was this not done?

My wife and I visited Dick in 2009 and I wrote a story for the Post Register on our visit. I believe mine was the last media interview he gave before his passing. Sometime after his death, I spoke with the BLM manager of the Salmon office (whose name I do not recall), who assured me that at least some significant portion of the dugout site would be preserved. Yesterday, the Post Register's Assistant City Editor Mike Mooney spoke with Linda Price of the Salmon office, and she assured him that the dugouts were still intact and that she hoped to visit them soon (I have no reason to believe that she knew otherwise). She then referred him to Liz Townley, who told Mooney the obvious truth -- the dugouts had been destroyed. She also said that plans were under way to create some sort of interpretive memorial on the site.

I am writing to you at this time as a concerned citizen, not a journalist. However, the Post Register may write about this issue at some length in the future. (Mooney is writing a short column on the dugouts' destruction for next week, without going into great detail.)

I think you'll find that I'm pretty tenacious when I have the bit in my teeth, and I'm pretty passionate about this particular issue. Depending on your response, my next step will be to take the issue to Bob Abbey's office (I'm aware he's retiring at the end of May, so I'll direct my inquiries to his temporary or permanent successor). Meanwhile, I request answers to the following:

1. Why were all of the dugouts destroyed, in apparent contravention of the NHPA as amended?
2. Why would the local manager think the dugouts were still intact?
3. What is the specific plan for providing interpretative information at the site? I would like to receive a copy of the written plan. I'm sure, more than two years after Dick's death, that such a formal plan has been prepared.

Please, Mr. Ellis, I ask you not to consider this a trivial matter that doesn't require your attention. I assure you that many people in the Salmon area and elsewhere in eastern Idaho don't see it that way, and neither does the Post Register. I look forward to your timely response.

--
Roger Plothow
Editor and Publisher
Post Register
Idaho Falls, Idaho

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