Public Lands council hears concern on quagga mussels
The January public lands council meeting began with a report from Jay Mark Humphrey from the Emery Water Conservancy District. He said the quagga mussels are in Lake Powell. They will hold a meeting to discuss what can be done to stop or retard the infestation of the quagga mussels into Emery County.
"It would be devastating if we have to deal with quagga mussels in our structures. Quagga mussels like intake structures. It could become a dam safety issue. We are starting meetings. It includes recreational users as well as water users. It has us scared. The mussels are moving throughout the west," said Humphrey.
Humphrey said they have been aware of the mussels for quite some time, but the programs which have been in place are inadequate. Quagga mussels are expensive to deal with. The pressurized irrigation systems and the power plants in the county could really be damaged by the mussels.
Council chairman Ed Geary said new year's are a time for reflection. "We are now to the point where we can measure the progress of the lands bill in years. We are no closer to achieving our goals, but I do think there have been significant developments. More people have a better idea of what our process and product is like. The congressional staffs and representatives learned more about our public lands issues. We have had steady support from the commissioners and Ray (Petersen) has been a good spokesman."
Geary said in 2014 he would like the council to do more to represent themselves to the public. On the issue of the drilling leases for oil and gas there was much misrepresentation in the upstate newspapers, but the council didn't do anything to change that or clarify the issue. The people here know of the inaccuracies of those reports, but others do not. The lands council needs to do a better job educating people on what the real issues are. The pictures put in the Salt Lake Tribune were of areas 20-30 miles away from where the actual leases were for.
Another thing that has been bothering Geary is the wilderness commercials on television now that show a happy family with small children outdoors enjoying what the commercial says is a wilderness experience. In all actuality said Geary those commercials are shot no more than a quarter of a mile from a road, because you're not going to pack camera equipment and several small children over miles of wilderness. "Someone needs to point out the distortion. We need to be a little more creative," said Geary.
Jon Gilbert, council member asked how this could be done. Geary said guest editorials and letters to the editor can be effective. "We need to be more aggressive. You can't always let your adversaries take the high route."
Commissioner James Nelson was asked to give an update on the Emery County public land use bill. He said one set back is Sen. Ron Wyden from Oregon will no longer be on the natural resources committee. Rep. Rob Bishop was counting on his support in helping the public land initiative along. He was also working on the healthy forests bill.
Public lands consultant Randy Johnson said he sees something happening in 2014 with the Emery County land use bill. The bill will either receive support and move through Congress or it will unravel. He sees the bill at some point this year coming together. This year will see rubber on the road. In getting the bill through the Senate, sometimes Harry Reid can be very helpful or he can shut it down in the Senate. He was helpful with the Washington County bill and also with similar bills in his state of Nevada. "I think we will see it come together this year," said Johnson.
One area where Johnson has never seen such action before is the garnering of support from both sides Republican and Democrat, House and Senate. The Utah delegation Washington staffs have been extremely busy talking to people. They have spent a huge amount of time building support. A lot of people like this process. They've done more work than I've seen in this process in the background work.
The question was asked of how the new secretary of the department of the interior is working out. Johnson said they are hopeful. He feels like Secretary Jewell would be hesitant to drop a monument on us while the county is involved in a public land use process. Johnson said he hasn't sensed anything back in Washington to make him think they were headed for a monument designation.
There will be a meeting on Jan. 22 with the Congressmen and interested stakeholders at the Utah State Capitol.
The council heard from the agencies in attendance. BLM had a representative present, but didn't have anything to report. Rick Wilde for the Division of Water Rights didn't have a report.
The Division of Oil, Gas and Mining said they have five permits to drill in Emery County in the near future. Mostly east of SR-10 and near Ferron.
Priscilla Burton from DOGM received the community outreach award.
Justin Hart from the Division of Wildlife Resources told of personnel changes at the division. Fishing regulations regarding the kokanee salmon at Electric Lake have been added. Spear fishing will also be allowed at Electric Lake. Some regulations have been added for catch and kill to help reduce the population of non-native species.
Elk surveys are being conducted. Law Enforcement is working on trapping issues and also some poaching cases.
Hart said the quagga mussels are a concern and Lake Powell has between 300,000-400,000 boat launches per year. Many of these boat owners also launch in Emery County waters. "It's a major concern," said Hart.
Darren Olsen from the Manti-LaSal forest said they are taking scoping comments on four sheep allotments by Joe's Valley. The comment period will close later this month. Seasonal closures of gates on the forest are starting now and they will remain closed until April 15 depending on the weather. The forest will also have comment periods on troughs and spring developments and Olsen will give more information on these next month.
Laurel Nielson represented the grazing improvement and she said all applications are due for any range improvement projects planned for this year.
Jonathan Hunt from State Parks reported ice fishing is going well at the state parks. There was an ice fishing tourney at Scofield that was well attended. Most of the winners were from Emery County.
At Huntington North Reservoir they have created an ice skating rink near the dock and encourage anyone with ice skates to come out and skate.
Reservations are now being taken for Easter weekend at the state parks.
Ron Dean from Sen. Orrin Hatch's office gave a report on Washington. He said they are hoping for new and better things out of Washington. The public land use initiative is very important and they have been in conversations with Rep. Chaffetz and Bishop's offices.
Everyone is very ready to send a bill to Congress and the Senate that can be passed. Sen. Wyden has moved to the finance committee and Sen. Baucus has been appointed as the ambassador to China.
Staff turnovers can be an issue this time of year. A letter signed by 14 senators was sent out asking that all PILT funding remain intact.
Coal regulations coming into affect in 2014 are a big deal and very contentious. The Pres. Obama administration is hostile to coal/carbon based industry. But, there is nothing realistic to step into the void that would be left by the elimination of coal. "Until science can put together a replacement we want to be sure coal stays vital," said Dean.
Colton Miles with Rep. Jason Chaffetz office said the second session of Congress is back in session and Rep. Chaffetz assignments haven't been changed. He is still on the judiciary and homeland security committees.
Rod Player, council member said the Trails Committee is still working on a special recreation designation for Cottonwood and Straight Canyons. There will be a meeting on Jan. 16 with the user groups (boulderers).
Player said the non-motorized trail maps are almost complete.
Under public comments John Anderson said he has written several letters to the editor and sent to the Salt Lake Tribune and never had any printed. He feels they are very biased. Anderson passed out a letter to the council members from Rainer Huck.
Humphrey reported the water situation isn't good. One month ago the snowpack was at 100 percent of average and now it is down to 80 percent.
Most of the reservoirs are 20-30 percent full. The water district has been looking at water forecasts and it's predicted that 48,000 acre feet will run into Joe's Valley.
The reservoir is not predicted to fill this year, unless the weather changes. The Emery Water Conservancy district is seeding clouds, but there have not been a lot of clouds to work with. "It looks like it will be better than last year, but we don't know," said Humphrey.