Friday, May 18, 2012

Additional response from the BLM

To his credit, Joe Kraayenbrink, the manager of the Idaho Falls field office of the BLM, wrote me a long letter today, which is posted below. Unfortunately, his response misses most of the point. The destruction of the dugouts at the Salmon River represents a failure, regardless of whether "proper procedures" were followed.

Dear Mr. Plothow,

 Dugout Dick's last residence as it appeared May 12, 2012.
In addition to our phone conversation, I wanted to provide you with the following information that will hopefully continue to clarify the situation and allow us to build a solid foundation from which we can work together in the future.

As your newspaper has reported, Richard Zimmerman, better known as “Dugout Dick,” first located his caves and cabin on public land in 1948 along the west bank of the Salmon River.  Mr. Zimmerman entertained many visitors, and rented caves to many individuals.  The first cabin he constructed is still standing and is identified by a wooden plaque.  

Mr. Zimmerman occupied the public land, approximately nine acres, under an authorized Cooperative Agreement signed on March 5, 1990, between him and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  Under the agreement he was allowed to live on site and rent “dugouts” by the day or month.  The agreement was valid for the life of Mr. Zimmerman and was voided at the time of his death.  The agreement was not to be passed to any other individual.  

Prior to Mr. Zimmerman’s death, the BLM went to great lengths to involve all potential cooperators and interested parties (County Commissioners; law enforcement; local, State and County social workers; the Veteran’s Administration; neighbors and friends; and Mr. Zimmerman himself) in addressing the future of the site upon Mr. Zimmerman’s death, and the neighborly, yet legal manner, in which the future of remaining tenants would be handled.  

Upon the death of Mr. Zimmerman in April 2010, the BLM became responsible for the safety of anyone entering or using the site.  The location adjacent the scenic Salmon River, its easy access, and its visibility from a highly traveled state highway essentially assure frequent future use of the site by the general public.  The BLM expended several hundred thousand dollars in the initial cleanup of human waste and other immediate health and safety hazards (hazmat, hanta virus, fecal matter, containers of human urine, rats, and trash) and a larger plan and cleanup of the entire site to remediate the remaining structural hazards.  
The BLM’s initial desire was to install gates around the two ice caves so they could remain “open” to the general public but not physically accessible due to safety concerns. However, upon attempting to install such gates, it was determined to be infeasible because the talus slope did not allow for secure anchoring.  Other structures, including many of the rock retaining walls planned for removal were left on site; after the overlying wood and sod were removed, they were deemed safe.  Closure of the site included the construction of a small parking area below the road to provide access to the river and future interpretative site.  

The condition of the area upon Mr. Zimmerman’s passing created concerns about public health and safety and necessitated remediation.  The BLM acted according to the established protocol under the National Historic Preservation Act in notifying the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and subsequently complied with all requirements. The majority of items/structures that were considered “eligible” for preservation remain on site.  Other eligible structures were removed, with concurrence from the SHPO, due to safety concerns. Fortunately, we were able to keep Dugout Dick’s first cabin.

The BLM is committed to an open process and to adhering to all rules and regulations. The attached chronologies outline the BLM’s efforts to notify and involve the public in actions and planning for the site, and coordination with the SHPO to preserve it as a place that has cultural significance.  

I hope this information sheds light on our commitment to preserving and maintaining sites while providing for public health and safety, and shows that the BLM did not act lightly when making decisions regarding Dugout Dick’s caves.  I have provided Linda Price, the Salmon Field Office Manager with your contact information. She will be calling you in the near future (she is moving the week of May 21) to discuss your ideas for the interpretation on site.  Thank you for your concern.

Joe Kraayenbrink, Idaho Falls District Manager

1 comment:

  1. Well, Joe totally missed the boat. As a former BLM employee, and part time river guide on the Salmon River and MIddle Fork Salmon, I stopped by to drop off fruit, pies and bread to Dugout Dick. This is a travesty and shows a very shortsighted albeit perhaps legal interpretation of the rules and regulations. BLM blew it on this one, plain and simple. A total cop out. That's my take on this mess and I'm glad you have been haranguing them as they clearly need it.