Letters to the editor: Get involved with public lands
As a member of Emery County Public Lands Council I am writing this to express some concerns and ask for input from the citizens of Emery County. On Feb. 2 the lands council held their last meeting. The Emery County Public Lands Council has been putting forth an effort to move forward with drafting a piece of legislation concerning Emery County's public lands. We have conducted public meetings and asked for input on the desires of Emery County's citizens and at which point a bill is drafted the citizens will be asked for their approval or disapproval. As you have probably read, Emery County's Commissioners proposed a plan to join with SUWA in equal funding to hire Val Payne to draft a bill to send to Congress concerning the future of public lands within Emery County.
This plan was announced following me questioning some "field trips" conducted late last fall. I attended two of these field trips as a member of the public lands council. The first field trip dealt with lands from Horse Canyon on SR-6 south to Green River. The second field trip was dealing with lands south of Green River between SR-24 and the Green River. During these field trips I felt the desires of Emery County's citizens were not being adequately voiced. In the public lands council meeting I questioned why members of SUWA and other radical environmental groups were being invited to participate, but similar invitations were not being extended to other groups. I feel the OHV users, livestock grazers, oil and gas permit holders, mineral claims holders and others should have an equal say in the future of Emery County. Only one livestock permittee was present during the first field trip and none were included in the second.
In response to my questioning, Commissioner Gary Kofford announced a plan the Commissioners and SUWA had been working on for nearly two months. I was shocked to hear of such a plan. I felt betrayed. From the beginning of my involvement with the Public Lands Council, we have been told and have been telling the citizens of Emery County any land use plan would have no closed door negotiations, and all actions would be open and transparent to the public. I feel my credibility to citizens I have given my word to has been tarnished greatly. I never wanted, nor do I currently want any part of a lands use bill to be held secret from the citizens of Emery County. I apologize to anyone who took my word and now feel I mistreated them. I know others who also gave their word have much regret as well.
We as a lands council voted on whether to employ Val Payne with equal compensation from SUWA. I was one of the three who voted against such an agreement. I still feel the same way and am glad to see the commissioners have since chosen to scrap such an agreement. I do not believe the citizens of Emery County want to conduct any negotiations with SUWA. We all know what SUWA wants, 1.4 million acres of wilderness in Emery County. The current Wilderness Study Areas in Emery County consist of 450,000 acres. The citizens of Emery County I have spoken with do not want three times more acreage locked up from usage. I was told during the meeting we needed SUWA's input and support to draft a lands use bill. I disagree; SUWA didn't ask the citizens of Emery County to provide input on their Red Rock Wilderness Bill.
The next Public Lands Council meeting is scheduled for March 2. An agenda we will vote on will be whether to hire an individual or company to draft a bill for Emery County. Funding for an individual or company will also be addressed. I would ask for the public to make their voices heard and have a say in Emery County's future. The original plan with SUWA called for equal funding from the county and SUWA totaling $25,000. I was told the county could not afford the second $12,500 if SUWA was not involved. I feel the additional $12,500 is a small price to pay if Emery County is going to send a piece of legislation to Congress concerning the future of all public lands in Emery County. I do not believe any outside funding should be utilized on an "Emery County Lands Use" bill. Outside funding will only add speculation on the validity of a "grass roots" land bill.
I was asked to privately address my concerns and questions prior to the next Lands Council meeting. I thought of doing such, but feel my questions are the questions of the citizens as well and will ask them openly in the next meeting. I seek to know why negotiations with SUWA were held privately for two months. I need to know who Val will report to, the council or the commissioners directly; I asked this last meeting and the answer was not known. If a bill is drafted and sent to Congress and then starts to get revised, who gets to make the decision on when it is no longer "a bill of Emery County"? I ask for you, the citizens of Emery County to get involved and ask similar questions. I know much of the public trust has been violated this past couple weeks and I don't blame anyone who can no longer support a lands use bill. I cannot say whether the public can or will support future planning of a lands use bill, but believe we need to look ahead, ask the questions and then determine the path to take.