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Stimulus to provide $15.8 million for BLM projects

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is slated to receive $15.8 million in federal stimulus money for 54 projects in Arizona, with a large portion dedicated to renewable energy projects.

The projects will focus on a number of areas, including abandoned mines, renewable energy and hiking trails, according to BLM officials. The bureau will receive about $305 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for projects across the U.S.

Samuel Burton, the BLM’s stimulus coordinator for Arizona, said he expects bids will be awarded on some of the smaller projects in the next 30-60 days, while the larger projects could take about three months.

The bureau has not produced an estimate of how many jobs the $15.8 million will generate.

“We are still gathering that information,” Burton said.

In a May 4 press release, Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees BLM, noted that the stimulus money supports President Obama’s goals of building America’s new energy future, protecting and restoring the country’s “treasured landscapes,” addressing America’s water challenges, empowering Native American communities and creating a 21st century youth conservation corps.

The largest chunk of the money, about $6.5 million, is dedicated to solar- and wind-energy projects, especially at abandoned mine lands.

“The intent was to take lands that are ecologically damaged and … convert them into reusable or usable lands again,” Burton said. “We’re trying to take lands that are otherwise not suitable for public use and converting them to renewable energy projects.”

Of the 17 capital improvement projects on BLM land that will be funded by stimulus money, 12 involve the installation of solar panels at bureau facilities, such as ranger stations and campgrounds. The rest of the $3.1 million dedicated to capital improvements will fund things like campground construction and wastewater facilities.

The bureau plans to improve safety at 14 abandoned mines, fencing off the areas, blocking some mine shafts and filling in some open pit mines. Burton said those projects, which will cost about $738,000, will protect both wildlife and people.

Nine trail reconstruction projects are in the works, including at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Cochise County, the Black Canyon Recreation Trail and Arizona’s portion of the Juan Batista Historic Trail, which stretches from Nogales to San Francisco. BLM will receive about $1.4 million for those projects.

The remainder of the 54 projects will be dedicated to things such as maintenance for bureau buildings and parking lots, habitat preservation and road and bridge work. About $2.8 million of the money will go toward habitat-restoration projects.

“The kinds of things you’re looking at involve protecting desert tortoise habitat, putting up fences for the animals on highway areas that have been identified as bad for the tortoise. They’re talking about doing vegetative treatment,” Burton said. “All bundled together, it’s a wide net to protect those areas and improve those lands.”

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