- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

Thousands of Westerners today will converge on a remote dirt road in Nevada to protest the Clinton administration's land policies, despite threats of arrest from federal officials.

The shovel-wielding protesters plan to remove the boulders and rubble that federal officials used to permanently close the dirt road by a creek near the small mining town of Jarbidge after the road was washed out during a 1995 storm.

The road led to a wilderness area and picnic shelter once accessible to the handicapped, and has become the rallying cry for Westerners who are angry over stricter federal controls of public land.

"We want to be able to use our national forest, and it's their policy to stop it; that's what the big fuss is about," said John C. Carpenter, a state assemblyman.

A federal judge last week refused to uphold an injunction that the Justice Department had sought to block the protest by the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade and reopening the road. However, U.S. Attorney Kathryn Landreth warned protesters still could be charged with violating federal environmental laws if a nearby stream is disturbed.

Rep. Jim Gibbons, Nevada Republican, said the brigade has a right to protest and should be careful not to break Clean Water Act or Endangered Species Act laws.

"I would not want the government to overreact to their presence, or the Shovel Brigade to incur any punitive federal action against them on the basis of anything they might do," Mr. Gibbons said.

An estimated 5,000 protesters are expected to attend the Fourth of July event. Hundreds of shovels donated to the Jarbidge Brigade by sympathetic supporters throughout the United States will be used to remove debris from the mile-long road.

Nancy Howell of the Twin Falls Sheriff's Department said yesterday that hundreds of protesters began arriving Sunday and so far have been peaceful.

The brigade "wants it to be peaceful, they just want to get in there and open the road," she said.

Federal officials have refused to open the road, saying runoff into the nearby stream has threatened bull trout.

Residents first tried to open the road last fall but canceled their plans after the state revoked their construction permit. Led by organizer Demar Dahl, Elko County residents formed the Jarbidge Brigade and launched a Web site to promote the Fourth of July event.

The protesters staked out campsites in Idaho yesterday, just across the Nevada state line where the protest will be held in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

Sheriff's departments from both states have stationed command centers at the campground and protest site, and the Nevada National Guard is on call.

Elko County Sheriff Neil Harris said protesters are cooperative with law enforcement officials. However, that could change quickly if the protesters are confronted by federal officials or environmentalists.

"We always anticipate trouble, but I don't expect it from the brigade people," Sheriff Harris said.

"My concern is if we get environmentalists up here who don't want to open the road, and then they start jostling back and forth with the Shovel Brigade."

A Forest Service spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny whether federal law enforcement officers would be on the scene. "It is not our policy to comment on the presence or absence of law enforcement," she said.

Sheriff Harris said the presence of federal law enforcement officials would be "the catalyst to spark problems from either side."

"Our whole plan is just to step back and keep the peace," the sheriff said.

Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn said the brigade has a right to protest, but urged it to avoid violence.

"I would ask people to use their good judgment and not go against the government," the Republican governor said.

"I hope people let the process with the federal government work," Mr. Guinn said, in reference to a proposed settlement agreement to reopen the road.

• This article was based in part on wire-service reports.

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