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Front Page » September 8, 2009 » Emery County News » Emery County to go ahead with lands bill
Published 1,867 days ago

Emery County to go ahead with lands bill


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By PATSY STODDARD
Editor

The Emery County Public Lands council voted to proceed with an Emery County Land Use Plan and federal legislation. The lands council held a series of meetings to gain an idea of how the public stands on various land use issues including transportation, water, grazing, access, right of ways, historical and heritage resources as well as others. These topics were explored in regards to a possible Emery County Land Use Bill similar to the bill Washington County passed in March of this year.

Mark Williams reported in the second transportation meeting they had the attendance was large. Quite a few people spoke in favor of going ahead with a bill and a bunch were scared of wilderness. Several good comments were made. It was mentioned there were those in attendance who tried to lead the meeting away from the topic at hand and turn it into a debate on constitutional issues.

The main point the lands council wishes to get across is they can pull the bill if things get out of hand. It was mentioned that Washington County could have pulled their bill at any point in time. They had to make concessions and did get more wilderness than they originally wanted, but they were able to pull some areas out of wilderness study areas, too. They were satisfied with what they gained.

Guy Webster, lands council member mentioned he has had people express concern over having Randy Johnson in Washington lobbying for the Emery County bill. They want others to accompany him. Commissioner Gary Kofford, said Johnson is a paid lobbyist working for Emery County and as such he is not a decision maker, but would push forward a bill crafted by the county.

"He is a hired employee and will do what the county wants," said Kofford. Kofford said he would expect Ray Petersen, public lands director would be involved and maybe even lands council members would get a chance to go and participate in getting an Emery County land use bill passed.

Mistie Christiansen, lands council member, said she has heard the opinion too, where people are glad Johnson is on board because of his experience with Washington County and his knowledge of public lands issues.

Petersen said when the time comes, with communication what it is today, that close contact will be kept with those in Washington and those in the county regarding the status of the bill.

Petersen said in his observations of the transportation meeting that people were reluctantly agreeable to what the county is trying to accomplish. Most said it makes sense to go ahead and address the issue.

Sherril Ward, council member said it might be our only chance to isolate wilderness and get it stopped. He mentioned a good letter by Alan Peterson which addresses why it's a good idea to go ahead with legislation.

The water rights committee will stick with language that is in the Washington County bill and tie into it endangered species. They have asked irrigation companies to contribute funds to get possible projects evaluated. The irrigators could release some water later in the watering season to such projects. An engineer would get some projects evaluated so proposals on expenses could be analyzed. The water subcommittee would like to look at increased storage in Ralfston and Miller's Flat reservoirs. To include endangered species and the stockholders would allow both to benefit from projects.

Kofford said the starting amount of $10,000 for studies for projects probably wouldn't get you too far. Ward said the projects to increase storage capacity at the reservoirs just needs an estimate of expenses.

Vernell Rowley, council member said the historical committee met last week and they are still inventorying sites. They participated in the placement of the MK tunnel signs. Dave Mangum volunteered to inventory sites by Emery.

Priscilla Burton, council member reported they haven't received any comments back from anyone concerning gas, minerals and mining. Someone has been corresponding with Bill Barrett corporation.

Chuck Semborski, council member said Consol was concerned about affects from the America's Red Rock Wilderness Act introduced again by SUWA. Dave Taylor from Live Earth has also expressed concern about his resource supply, should a large part of Emery County become wilderness as proposed by ARRWA. Burton said that's why it's so important to have valid and existing rights because these would continue even if an area becomes wilderness.

Christiansen reported on the grazing meeting, they said to move forward and be proactive, not just wait and see. One concern they had was the maps don't show all the watering sites for livestock so she encouraged grazers to GPS these sites or mark them on maps so they can be recorded and documented for use in the bill. Petersen said they have found a map layer which shows more of the range improvements, but it's probably not complete and they welcome additions.

Gary Petty, lands council member, said it's important to the grazers to have motorized and mechanized access to make improvements to their allotments. He has talked to Nevada grazers who deal with wilderness and some were for and some against. One complaint they had was people that visit the wilderness areas are offended by piles of cow manure and those people want to see grazing eliminated.

Christiansen said she has told the grazers to make sure their permits have a valid and existing right for mechanized travel to fix springs. In wilderness these exceptions are allowed if the language is present in the valid and existing permit.

Christiansen said as the land use bill moves forward she would like to see the advisory committee kept in place. Petersen suggested the lands council itself could be the advisory committee because it already exists and is a good vehicle for addressing issues and concerns with the agencies.

Kofford said if you go after an advisory committee then you would take any jurisdiction out of the county's hand and it would be under BLM jurisdiction and you couldn't hold the advisory committee to just Emery County people and concerns.

Christiansen said her main concern is she would like to see BLM and forest service actions reviewed or looked at ahead of time before these agencies just spring changes and closures upon the county.

Burton said she works for the state and while it may appear that these decisions are made by one person they are reviewed by a staff of people who give information so a supervisor can make a decision. Burton suggested meeting with agency supervisors more frequently to stay in touch with what they are working on in regards to public lands decisions.

Rowley wondered who would draw up the legislation. Kofford said it would be done with county staff and Petersen along with the county attorney and employees as well as Mark Ward from the Utah Association of Counties who has volunteered to help. Randall Stilson, council member made a motion to go ahead and do something so the county will have a voice. It was determined by unanimous vote the council proceed with a land use bill for Emery County and after said bill is complete be brought before the public in an open meeting to discuss the contents of the bill. Christiansen said she hopes the meeting will have a lot of participation. Webster said they need to be prepared with the bill, maps, overlays, roads, boundaries and everything to show the public what's involved.

Petersen said he could have the language in two-three weeks and then the meeting would need to be advertised for two weeks. Rowley said he doesn't see a need to rush, but to go through all of the issues and put something nice together even if it takes to the first of the year. Webster said the individual communities need to be visited to get the word out, because people hear the word wilderness and it scares them. The public meetings were tentatively set for the end of October.

Ward said it's important to get the message out to people on why the council is doing this.

Petersen asked each subcommittee if the language from the Washington County bill works for them, and if not to get him the necessary changes by a week's time. Information on the lands council and its activities will also be on the Emery County website.

Brad Shafer from Sen. Bennett's office worked on the Washington County land use bill and Wilson asked him how the Washington County commission felt about the bill. Shafer said some of the talk might be true that they weren't happy with parts of the bill. But, the bill was something they could live with. "They had to swallow hard in negotiations, mainly on the acreage of the wilderness, but they could have pulled the plug at any time. They didn't have anything rammed down their throats. The wilderness was bigger than they wanted, but the exact same activities are still taking place. Access to land and uses are still the exact same."

Shafer said the legislation helped solve the road questions. All of their RS-2477 road issues have been resolved with the exception of one road. Maps have been produced which show all the roads which are open. Some people just look at the wilderness acreage number and it is more than originally proposed by Washington County. Critics also talk about the America's Red Rock Wilderness Act and say that Washington County is still in ARRWA. Which it is, because ARRWA was introduced the day after the Washington County legislation passed. Just because Washington County has wilderness, doesn't prevent some group from asking for more.

If the ARRWA were to pass then it would be amended to take out Washington County, because wilderness has been visited there and Congress has taken care of wilderness in Washington County. In Washington County some lands were released from wilderness study areas and have reverted back to BLM and its resource management plans. Shafer said the water language was as good as it can get.

It allows the feds to hold a water right, but under state rules and regulations. The bill also prohibits buffer zones around WSAs. "With the total package they (Washington County) got a pretty good deal. All parties were satisfied with what they got and it has made no difference to the activities on the land. The roads which are important have been cherry stemmed into the wilderness. There are no closed roads in the established wilderness.

Ward asked if the language in the bill-legislation could be strong enough to hold off any litigation and people trying to get more wilderness.

Shafer said no, that the language in the bill is for management purposes. "You can't prohibit someone from coming back and asking for more wilderness." Shafer emphasized the real power in the Washington County bill lies with the fact that the wilderness study areas have been resolved. They have been established as wilderness or reverted back to the BLM. This is for the original WSAs and not the reinventory lands.

Shafer pointed out the 1964 Wilderness Act was the ideal. Subsequent acts of Congress have declared wilderness in various areas and wilderness is what Congress says it is, in some areas there are roads in forest service wilderness areas and mines in others. "It is what is designated, Congress will decide what it is. These are some of the lessons we've taken out of the Washington County experience," said Shafer. Shafer said Emery County has a legitimate argument in Congress right now because Emery County is living with unresolved wilderness study areas. It is a legitimate issue until Congress resolves the WSAs. The next public lands council meeting is on Oct. 6 at 10 a.m. with a work meeting beginning at 9 a.m.

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