Public Lands council discusses roads and rights
Bruce Wilson chairman of the Emery County Public Lands Council opened the August meeting with a reminder of the mission statement of the council. That statement says: The mission of the Emery County Public Lands Council is to represent the public lands interests of Emery County and its citizens and to perform an advocacy role for local users and stakeholders; to work in partnership with federal and state agencies in fashioning management decisions and policies affecting lands within Emery County; and to participate in the development, coordination and implementation of the planning objectives of federal, state, and local entities to ensure harmony between the objectives of these various entities and the Emery County Master Plan.
The statement goes on: It is the intent and purpose of the Emery County Public Lands Council to aggressively preserve the community heritage of Emery County by vigorously participating in and influencing all public land planning and decision making processes on behalf of and under authority of the Emery County Commission.
Wilson stated, "We are here to settle and accomplish issues. We don't always agree, but we need to keep things positive and come up with solutions."
The subject of roads, their ownership and condition, continued to be a topic of discussion as a continuation of July's meeting. Sherrel Ward asked if the Title V situation over the roads is cut and dried. Commissioner Ira Hatch explained that while the county will continue to pursue RS-2477 on the seven roads listed in the lawsuit, and perhaps others, Title V will continue to be a tool the county will use to maintain the condition of the roads.
Ray Petersen, public lands director, stated that "Emery County is considering taking some Title V rights of way (ROW) for Class B roads at this time." All roads in the state are classified by the State of Utah. Class A are state highways, Class B roads are county roads that are maintained to a designated level and for which the state provides the county funding. Class C roads are city streets and Class D roads are roads which a county may claim, but does not maintain to a given standard and does not receive funding.
According to Petersen, "Should Emery County choose to utilize the Title V option, we would insist on language that makes it clear that by receiving the Title V ROW, we do not forfeit the RS-2477 ROW. In discussions with the Bureau of Land Management, we have insisted on three conditions, that we don't give up any RS-2477 rights, we determine the maintenance level of the road, and the ROW is in perpetuity (has no time limit). Thus far, BLM has been agreeable to these conditions. It's also important to note that these specific roads we're considering for Title V are not controversial roads. They are recognized as roads by all concerned parties and even appear on a Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance proposed transportation plan. Even though everyone agrees that they are indeed roads, Emery County has nothing on paper, no documentation, confirming the fact. A Title V ROW would accomplish that."
This explanation cleared up some confusion within the council. It was expressed that some members had the impression that the issue was a matter of "one of the other", that both options could not remain open.
"The RS-2477 lawsuit has been filed and is still active. The attorneys are waiting for a reply from the Department of the Interior. It has been six years in the process to get to this point with one year discussing the seven roads in the lawsuit. Emery County has spent more than $100,000 on legal fees pursuing this matter and is no closer now than during the past six years. Without help from the Utah State Attorney General's Office, Emery County could not keep fighting for these roads," said Hatch.
Commissioner Gary Kofford explained, "the county has several roads at the present time that are Title V. They were taken for construction purposes. These same roads qualify for RS-2477 but we took Title V for upgrade work on them. We are not opening new issues, we are expanding on a decision made years ago. Title V claims are made on a road by road basis. Title V is a recognized right by the BLM."
Pam Juliano from Congressman Jim Matheson's office said, "Several other counties in Utah are doing the same thing and it has been very successful. In Title V there can be a clause claiming RS-2477 rights."
Petersen stated, "the Moore cut-off road is a Title V road, along with the Goblin Valley road, and parts of the Buckhorn Wash road. Title V is allowing us to do upgrades and repairs. Utah, and Emery County especially, are on point on this issue. Many of the surrounding states are watching us during this road process. Our commissioners are intent to work with the BLM and get resolutions."
Gary Petty expressed his appreciation for the information that has been shared with the public lands council. "A lot of information and issues have been clarified today through these discussions. Many council members were concerned about giving up RS-2477 rights with Title V. We are grateful for clearing up the misinformation."
In other business conducted by the public lands council, the decision was made to form a committee to work with the forest service concerning the beetle killed trees on the forest service lands. The committee will work to resolve the issues concerning the problems caused by the dead trees.
The council requested Petersen to write a letter in response concerning the environmental impact statement about the sheep grazing on the Wasatch Plateau. The decision was made by the council to support the preferred alternative in the plan which is to leave the grazing as is. The response must be done within 30 days.
Petersen gave an update of the restoration work being done at the Swinging Bridge. He said that the materials have arrived and will be stained off site. The installation work will be conducted in September and he encouraged members of the lands council to volunteer to help with the work.
In the mining, minerals, and coalbed methane portion of the business, Wilson stated that SUFCO will begin mining a new lease early in 2006. He encouraged members to be aware of any activity on the Muddy drainage and document that activity. He also reported that the Lila Canyon project is under final review and plans to begin in early 2006. Skyline Mine is also in the midst of their final review. The road work at the Rilda Canyon project is continuing, and Bear Canyon Mine has applied for 8,500 acres of new lease permits.
Petty added that Consol is buying the farming property that lies over the proposed longwall operation in that mine. The property is south and west of the mine office.
Petersen reported that SITLA is selling four parcels of land adjoining the Green River. The bulk of the property is in Grand County, with a small portion on the Emery County side of the river. Emery County is applying for the rights of way for search and rescue purposes, to allow access for emergencies.
The Emery County Public Lands Council meets once a month to discuss issues and reach solutions concerning public lands in Emery County. Their next meeting is Sept. 13 at 10 a.m. in the county building.