2016 off to a great start
January 8, 2016
Well, that didn’t last long. We happily turned the page on a challenging 2015 and started out the new year filled with anticipation of better things to come. Barely a week in, we have Saudi Arabia and Iran burning embassies and threatening war over a 1,400-year-old dispute, financial markets in yet another panic, and North Korea rattling the dishes with what it claims is an H-bomb. Happy New Year. Closer to home, we have a bunch of gun-toting old guys having a sleep-over in a Federal bird sanctuary in Oregon.
The Oregon "stand-off" is amusing, in a scary sort of way. Two local ranchers, whose land adjoins the Federal Wildlife Refuge, were convicted of arson. They started wildfires on the Federal land, they claimed, to prevent weeds from the Federal land spreading onto their adjoining private land. It seems like a questionable weed control program, since there’s nothing thistles like better than bare, burned ground. There are also claims that they were covering up evidence of having poached deer on the Refuge land. So they got packed off to jail.
And then it got weird. To defend their God-given rights to burn property they don’t own, the militia guys loaded up on jerky and ammunition, and seized the seat of Federal oppression. In this case that turns out to be a closed visitors center of a remote bird sanctuary. They didn’t even have the sense to take over the gift shop and snack bar.
The leader of the group, who is calling for like-minded militia members from around the country to bring guns and ammo and join them, is Ammon Bundy. Bundy is the son of rancher Cliven Bundy, who had a lengthy and nearly violent stand-off with the BLM in Nevada. He was defending his "right" to graze cattle on Federal land without paying rent. After a few very tense days, the Feds backed down rather than engage in a shoot-out over squatting cows. Ammon Bundy got about 12 of his 15 minutes of fame in that deal, and decided to complete it in Oregon.
The response is entirely different. This time, the response is mostly derision. Law enforcement is watching the situation, from a distance. The strategy seems to be that the militia will sooner or later run out of clean underwear and Twinkies, and the protest will die a quiet death. Their compatriots have not answered the call, presumably because even crazed militia members realize that it’s not cool to set fire to somebody else’s property.
The national media, stuck in the frigid emptiness of eastern Oregon, are trying to make a story out of nothing. The best they can do is speculate whether the law enforcement response would be so reserved if the gift shop had been seized by Islamists instead of rednecks. Online commentators have called the group "Y’all-qaeda" and "Vanilla Isis." Nobody is calling them a threat. Voltaire said, "please, God, make my enemies look ridiculous."
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The local news is more predictable. The big stories for 2016 will be a repeat of 2015. Dogs will continue to dominate the political discourse. There is an election for County Council, with 4 seats up this year. My prediction is that the campaign will touch on traffic, housing, and the problems of too much growth on the west side and too little on the north side of the county. Who cares? The pivotal issue will be dogs. Summit County will spend better than $60 million in 2016. We would elect Ammon Bundy if he promised to issue guns to our unleashed dogs.
Traffic will remain a sclerotic story. The City and County have both hired special traffic experts, who will study the situation for an undetermined length of time before discovering that there are too many cars on not enough roads. While waiting for divine intervention to deliver the perfect solution, a truly world-class answer to the problem, they will keep ignoring simple interim steps, like re-striping 248 to make 2 lanes in-bound. There is a sincere belief that we will all start riding the bus, which we will do as soon as the Easter Bunny starts driving it.
Parking, the step-child of traffic, will also be a hot issue. Businesses are already complaining that people are using their parking lots as "park and ride" lots, where people park and carpool, or get on the bus, for the last couple of miles of their commute. Overflow parking from the resorts will become a problem for businesses with big parking lots. Maybe after the militia members abandon their cause in Oregon, they will find jobs as border patrol in local parking lots.
But whatever the issue, you can be sure there will be consultants hired.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.