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County plan to buy ranch for off highway vehicle park is halted

John Rieping/The Madera Tribune Madera County supervisors discuss the cancellation of a contract to buy Black Hawk Ranch in Coarsegold due to an alleged lapse in procedure by the Federal Highway Administration.


Feds bungled process, supes say In a setback for their own plans, Madera County supervisors unanimously agreed to cancel an existing contract to buy Black Hawk Ranch in Coarsegold for an off-highway vehicle recreation park.

The supervisors had applied for a grant through the FHWA’s Recreation Trails Program to fund the purchase of the foothills land – appraised around $2 million – for the Black Hawk Recreation Project, and expected to get the money needed. Instead the project has gone “back to square one,” board chairman Rick Farinelli said, because of a lapse in procedure by the FHWA.

The county board had approved the contract for the 956-acre land purchase on Nov. 3, 2015, but had to abandon it to conform to the Uniform Relocation Act as administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), according to the county.

The recent delay is not a first for the sports tourism project – to the dismay of Supervisor Brett Frazier, who represents the Ranchos areas.

“This whole project is a high level of heartburn,” he said. “It seems like we’ve talked about this 10 times. Every time it’s different. Every time it seems to get pulled out from underneath us, from over the top of us. If it’s going to be a project, I want it to be all buttoned up and pretty looking, and it just has been an ugly project. It’s scary how much it changes.”

Caltrans has suspended the project’s National Environmental Policy Act exemption that had been filed by the federal government, said Madera County Counsel Regina Garza. The exemption will be reviewed again after the FHWA consults about Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which states federal funds must consider a project’s impact on historic properties.

The ranch and project take their name from Blackhawk Mountain, where Chief Blackhawk had once lived along with a Native American village, according to Shonna Alexander, a Chukchansi and Miwok tribal member living in Coarsegold. The mountain is part of the ranch property.

The area had been a place for natives to meet and trade, said Joetta Fleak of the North Fork Mono Tribe. She told the Tribune that when her grandmother “was a little girl they’d all get together at Blackhawk, trade with people, and visit with family and friends. And then go to the coast, … trade with them and come home … Really is an OHV park that important versus thousands of years of history that can never be replaced?”

Public comment at Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting included concern about wise use of taxpayer dollars, predictions of litigation by Native Americans, outrage over potential harm to Native American cultural sites, and concern about a lack of planning for the park’s operation, which some felt would be a financial drain on the county. Sally Walsh, of O’Neals, scolded the board for alleged rudeness towards members of the public who had come to speak against the off-highway vehicle park.

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