Identifying lands to exchange with SITLA
Emery County has been involved in creating a public land use bill for the past two years. Currently the bill is in the hands of the state legislature where it awaits approval before it can move onward to Washington D.C. to Utah's Washington delegation where it can be placed in bill form and introduced to Congress. A part of this extensive process the county has undertaken, is what to do with the SITLA lands within the proposed wilderness and national conservation area designations.
The county has been working with SITLA since the land use bill was in its early stages. SITLA recently introduced a map to the Emery County Public Lands Council which outlines the SITLA lands which will be traded out and possible lands outside the designations which were suggested lands to be traded for in the county, as well as in the Uintah basin area. Lands which SITLA will trade for have the potential for oil and gas development as well as other mineral developments yet to be determined at this time.
John Andrews is an associate director for SITLA he introduced the maps to the lands council. He said SITLA has been mandated to raise as much money for the school children of Utah as possible. The permanent school fund has grown from $60 million in 1994 to $1.3 billion in 2011 and it continues to rise said Andrews. The lands being traded out are scenic and SITLA is looking for land to trade into which have usable assets. He feels SITLA has come up with a proposed land exchange that makes sense from a land owners standpoint. A lot of effort has been put into developing a rational land package and lands that can put money into the school system. It is SITLA's hope to trade into land with potential mineral development. They can't trade into lands which are currently under development. Emery County will have some revenue come back into the county from these trade out lands that are developed and begin to produce mineral lease money royalties.
Andrews pointed out the map he presented is in draft form. They have followed the land use bill map with their proposals. This map is not the final one and additional lands to trade or acquire can be identified in the future. This map is a starting point. Six or seven parcels have been identified near Woodside and BLM lands near Green River. There is a lease agreement already in place with Emery County for lands in the Mancos Hills Industrial Park. Lands south of Green River have also been identified for their gas and oil potential.
Another issue SITLA wishes to address is grazing. SITLA grazing permits come up for competitive bid. It is proposed any permit renewals be renewed for two terms before they come up for competitive bid. SITLA is involved in other land exchanges throughout the state and they are developing policy which will keep uniformity in all the land exchanges and grazing renewals.
Lands council member Sherrel Ward wondered if all the SITLA issues have to be resolved before the bill can be moved forward.
Randy Johnson, public lands consultant said SITLA will be a partner in resolving this issue, it may not have to be resolved in all exactness, but yes the general concept must be addressed before the bill would move very far if at all in Washington.
Andrews said land exchanges can become complicated and the 2009 recreation exchange was passed in Congress, but the actual appraisals and land exchanges have yet to go forward and be implemented on the ground.
Johnson said the trades can be identified and authorized as well as addressed in the bill. The bill can pass with the trades there and identified. It's very important that SITLA stay involved.
Public Land council chairman Bruce Wilson said if the land trade issues hog tie the county bill then can they be taken out?
Andrews said SITLA has been involved with land exchanges for a long time. Bills including land exchanges have gone both ways in his experience.
Johnson said the economic benefits of completing a land exchange would be good for the county as well as for SITLA. Mineral lease monies to the county have been going down with coal mines closing and mineral development slowing. Emery County could benefit from the land exchange and receive a share of the revenue lands that go into production generate. He doesn't believe the land exchange proposals will slow the bill down.
Wilson said he still fears a pen stroke at the end of the current administration's term and he would like to see the Emery County bill become law as soon as possible.
Johnson said he is very aware of that possibility as there has long been a target on Emery County. The Congressional delegation is aware of that as well and the SITLA land challenges need to be addressed as part of the land use bill. The time frame now looks like the bill would be introduced this session, but would not be considered until the new Congress is in place in 2013. Get it introduced, get everything in place and go from there.
Andrews said any land exchanges must be approved by the SITLA board which is a seven member board. They are meeting in Price on April 11 and there will be a reception at the Holiday Inn and everyone is welcome to come and meet the board.
Johnson said in the state legislature a bill is being worked upon which will deal with the county land use plans for the entire state and set-up a formula and path to follow for how these plans are approved at the state level. The governor's land office will coordinate with the county to make sure all procedures and requirements have been met. Currently this bill HB176 is in its early stages with preliminary language in place.
Ray Petersen, Emery County Public Lands director said, "We are encouraged by the decisions made by SITLA in the identification of areas they find attractive for exchange. It appears that the areas are suitable for development of natural resources when it is economically feasible to do so. It appears they have chosen areas which are least sensitive to the environmental community, which is desirable. We believe this proposal will be seen by our friends in the state legislature and in Washington as a positive, desirable step forward in moving the county land use legislation."
Editor's Note: For a larger rendition of the map, please click here (1.6 MB).