Public lands council discusses land exchanges
In the February Emery County Public Lands Council meeting, Commissioner Gary Kofford introduced a proposal to team up with SUWA in funding the position of a facilitator to work on the county's land use bill. This proposal caused a great deal of public outcry. In the March meeting the discussion of a facilitator was to continue. High interest in what Emery County is doing in regards to their land use bill brought a large crowd out to the March meeting.
Prior to the regular meeting the council met for a work meeting. Public lands director Ray Petersen reported on the legislature and any bills affecting public lands. He handed out letters on the reactions by Sen. Bob Bennett and Rep. Jim Matheson to a recent list which included the Swell as a potential monument site. All of the Utah delegation has spoken against any monument designations for Utah. They are leaning towards grass roots proposals for land use. The Washington delegation is working on a bill which would exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act of 1906 which allows the President to create monuments with the stroke of a pen.
House bill 143 was discussed which would allow the state of Utah to issue imminent domain authority on federal land. Utah has so much federal land the school children are being cheated. The council will follow the bills as they work their way through the Utah legislature.
Petersen shared a list of lands Michael McCandless has identified as possible trade out lands. These lands include areas around the Mancos Hills Industrial Park in Green River, and also around Woodside where a coal sequestration project is being proposed.
There were some questions on what happens to mineral rights and grazing rights on SITLA lands should the lands be traded out. The SITLA representative John Andrews said existing rights would still exist. Sherrel Ward, council member, said that wasn't the case with lands that were traded out before which said the permittee could have the rights until they passed away and then the right went away and couldn't be transferred. These issues will have to be investigated.
Andrews said the reason SITLA is interested in trading out any lands is if SITLA has a solid block of land there is more economic opportunity. In the setting up of school trustlands they are in a scattered pattern throughout the state. They were patterned after how they did things in the Mid-west where land is flat and that idea doesn't work as well here. Since 1976 the federal government has moved more towards a conservation status of its lands, but this approach doesn't work for SITLA who is mandated to raise as much revenue from their lands as possible for the school trust fund. Trustlands were found within Arches, Glen Canyon and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. A land trade was executed in 1998-1999 which traded out those lands for more productive lands. SITLA acquired the Cottonwood tract coal lease and the Drunkard Wash area for natural gas development. Andrews described the trade as great for the trustlands fund. It raised mineral lease money for the trustlands fund. A similar exchange was part of the Washington County land use bill. Another revenue raising opportunity has been the natural gas storage project proposed near Delta. This project will add $300 million to the Millard County tax base.
Andrews said eight years ago when the governor at that time was proposing a monument for Emery County they began looking at available lands for trade in Emery County. At that time SITLA wasn't successful with any land trades. The federal government said the valuations of the trade lands weren't equitable.
If Emery County develops a land use bill, then SITLA is likely to want to trade its land out of the land use bill. They would like to make workable exchanges. SITLA will not be part of the planning for any land use bill Emery County develops, but they would like to be kept in the loop and work with the county along the way should land exchanges be workable. One problem SITLA had with the Washington County land use bill was no exchange language was included in the bill. Exchange language should be included in any Emery County land use bill to facilitate any land exchanges.
Andrews said he would like to see any land exchanges between Emery County, the BLM and SITLA run parallel through the land use bill process.
Andrews feels SITLA and Emery County can reach a consensus on any land exchanges. He said it's important for the mapping process to be clear and concise as different trades are considered.
Randy Johnson, Emery County lobbyist said in his dialogue with Kevin Carter the SITLA director, Carter is concerned that if the land exchange bill is on a separate track than the land use bill, that SITLA might be left behind. Johnson said the land exchange process can be complicated and arduous. Andrews said the land exchange process is not complicated. SITLA's issue is in not being left behind.
Johnson said they don't want to stall out the Emery County land use bill, with SITLA language like priceless and useless. Andrews said it's very difficult to put monetary value on their land assets, for example how do you appraise the Corona Arch? SITLA just wants to be included in the fight. Johnson said it makes some sense in running separate language in the bill expressing interest in land exchanges and identifying land for exchange. Andrews agreed, but in the end it's the SITLA board which will have to agree on any land exchanges for SITLA lands.
Petersen said it has been SITLA's position to trade out parcels in wilderness.
Andrews said SITLA has a mandate to look to the financial benefit of the school fund. They do not consider the general public welfare and they manage lands solely for the benefit of the trust.
Emery County is interested in obtaining rights of way for existing roads through SITLA properties. Andrews said these roads can be validated without any cost to the county. SITLA has a source of funding for rights of way. In a trade, SITLA will recognize valid and existing rights.
SITLA grazing permits are for 15 year lengths. If a land transfer occurs then at the end of the permit, the SITLA terms and conditions of lease will stop and the permit will go into the federal system and the permit will be managed under the federal system. Because of the scattered SITLA lands a lot of large permits are within BLM allotments anyway.
The question was asked on how the roads are validated. Andrews said SITLA has original survey plats and if a road is shown on them to be valid and existing RS-2477 roads then SITLA can issue a disclaimer of interest. The county has to request this action take place.
Commissioner Gary Kofford said he has the concern that SITLA doesn't acknowledge the county's right. Andrews said there is some disagreement on valid and existing rights. Commissioner Kofford said at the time of the monument discussion eight years ago a representative from SITLA brought down some maps of possible trade out lands. Andrews said they aren't tied to those maps and with this new land use bill, SITLA will begin again to identify possible land exchange parcels.