|Congressman Jim Matheson tours the John Wesley Powell River Museum.|
Congressman Jim Matheson was in the area on a brief get acquainted visit on Jan. 22 at the John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River. He toured the museum facility before meeting for a discussion with local officials. He held informal meetings in Price, Green River, Moab, Monticello, Blanding and Bluff. His visit was the first of many planned for the future to meet the people in his new congressional district and learn of their needs and concerns.
Congressman Matheson said, "I was sworn in last week and since Congress isn't in session yet, I'm using this time to develop relationships in the new part of my district. I'm trying to cover the areas I wasn't able to get to in my campaign.....it's very informal....just to get acquainted. I'm going to be aggressive in reaching out. This isn't my congressional seat....it's your office and I don't have all the best ideas and won't presuppose your issues. I have a small active staff, but I don't have a senator's budget and I have had to shift people from Washington to Utah. We are still working on assignments...whether it will be geographical regions or whether they will be based on issues. I'll know more when they give me my budget. We will be moving an office out of Salt Lake and locating one in St. George. When a member of the House goes over their budget then they are personally liable, so I don't know yet what I have to work with.
"I am on the transportation and highway committee. They deal with railroads, post offices and others entities. They are the construction committee of the House. I plan to stay on it. This year we are rewriting the entire Highway Act. I have met with other congressmen to lay out the areas of concern....I am one voice. I think a basic investment in infrastructure is a good thing to do. I would also like to be involved in energy and health care. You have to put in the time to be on the energy committee and as a young guy I probably won't make it this time. We have a good working relationship with the Utah delegation, we are a small delegation and we have a Utah agenda...not a partisan agenda. It works pretty well," said Congressman Matheson.
There were a number of local people at the meeting who asked questions of the congressman. Green River Mayor Glen Dale Johnson made the congressman aware of a Department of Energy scoping meeting that had taken place in Green River the previous evening. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the cleanup of the uranium tailings pile near Moab. Five sites were discussed by the DOE as possible relocation sites for the tailings, one of which was near Green River at an old mill site. The DOE will have the final scoping done by the end of January and a decision made in January of 2004 as to what to do with the tailings.
Congressman Matheson expressed his views on the tailings, "I think they ought to move them...having them on the banks of the Colorado River is a mistake. The tailings are along the banks of a flood plain and it makes sense to move them. What's going into the river is not good."
Mayor Johnson stressed the fact that they do not want the tailings on the banks of the Green River either.
The DOE estimated cleanup of $300 million is variable depending on the final decision of what to do with the tailings.Congressman Matheson's press secretary, Alyson Heyrend commented that in the cleanup of other sites the money was not taken into consideration. It was the health and economic situation of the people involved.
The congressman stated that the DOE should treat us the same as they have those involved in the cleanup of 20 other sites.
The question was raised of the cost of prescription drugs for seniors. Congressman Matheson said the people should be outraged that something hasn't been done sooner because a lot of senators and congressmen in previous elections have been elected with lower costs for prescription drugs as part of their agendas. He also said he expected something to go through Congress such as a cost share for prescription drugs this session. Generic drugs generally cost 60 percent less than their counterparts. When the patent on a drug expires then the generic version of the drug can come out, but until that time the drug company has exclusive rights. Currently drug companies file for extensions on their patents to extend their exclusive manufacturing of that drug. The Senate has currently passed a law about limiting the extension of these patents. This is one step towards providing lower prescription costs to seniors as well as everyone else.
Congressman Matheson described the health care crisis as a broad issue. He was concerned with the price of health care premiums increasing each year and said they need to get a handle on it. In talking to one employer, the congressman was told that the health insurance was killing the business owner.....if that could be fixed then they would be doing fine.
The question of partial birth abortion was brought up and Congressman Matheson's view on this matter. He said his view on partial birth abortion had been distorted during the campaign and that he is against it. He said he also agrees with the ethical guidelines Senator Orrin Hatch has laid out in regards to stem cell research and other related research.
The San Rafael Swell was mentioned and Congressman Matheson said, "The voters of Emery County said they didn't want to go down the road of establishing a monument. But, the question is where do we go from here.?"
Brian Hawthorne from USA-All said he understood that the BLM would continue to do their study. Emery County Commissioner Ira Hatch said that the BLM study will be used in the revamping of their resource management plan for the Swell. Mineral and water reports as well as other information will be used for the basis of the revision of the RMP.
Mike Dunwoody, Green River businessman discussed the role of local people in these issues. He doesn't think others have a right to walk in and tell people in this area what ought to happen.
Emery County Commissioner Gary Kofford said the RMP planning process for the BLM has been given a nine month extension so the travel plan as well as the wild and scenic river designation decisions can be included.
Congressman Matheson stated that he didn't know if a monument was the right way to go or not, but he liked the local effort to bring in an opinion. "Our system lets people talk and debate. In dealing with Utah's public lands those involved are polarized. There is a lack of trust. I'm not hopeful about where things are going."
Dunwoody pointed out the need to preserve the economy in a local area in regards to public land decisions. Commissioner Hatch stated that in the RMP an economic study will also be included.
Congressman Matheson pointed out how tough it is to get legislation through Congress. Of the thousands of bills introduced each year maybe 300 are passed. In order for a bill to pass it must be striped of its controversy. He has put his name on a few bills so far....including health care and medicare reimbursement. The work of Congress is driven by the committees when it gets to the floor all the work has been done.
Congressman Matheson would like to see local economic growth...growth that is locally generated and stays local. Bringing this about could include direct grants to stimulate growth and other options.
Mayor Johnson wondered about the congressman's stand on Amtrak.
Congressman Matheson said, "I am an avid supporter of funding for Amtrak. In a post September 11 world with the adjustments to air travel, I think the rail option is a good one. In Amtrak's history there hasn't been massive subsidation. The government subsidizes almost every form of transportation."
Commissioner Hatch pointed out the needs of State Route 6 and 10 in the area. "Green River is a jumping off point to the Wasatch Front and we need support. Sometimes it seems like the big push is always for the Wasatch Front. We need support and help on local transportation."
Congressman Matheson also pointed out that 40 percent of heavy truck traffic through the state of Utah travels SR-6. He said a lot of federal money went to the I-15 reconstruction and the rest of the state was left holding the bag. He stressed the importance of SR-10 in the hauling of coal to the rail.
Commissioner Hatch said SR-10 needs help really quick because we're in trouble and the road is falling apart.
Congressman Matheson said that being on the transportation committee will give him a role in the setting of priority projects.
The matter of the train station in Green River was brought up. An Amtrak representative said that Union Pacific has control of the station and they have been arguing with them for years over the possibility of fixing it up and having some services available. The people do not get off if there aren't any services. People from other countries using Amtrak are instructed to get off in Grand Junction because there aren't any services listed for Green River. He pointed out the need to get that fixed.
The Green River people also stressed the importance of getting the people to stay in Green River and add to the economy. The train station does not include chairs, telephones or restroom facilities. One resident pointed out that sometimes people have to stay in the station for a layover and it's just not safe or convenient.
It was suggested that pressure be applied to Union Pacific and the need to get something in writing was stressed. Without permission from Union Pacific then Amtrak's hands are tied.
Dunwoody suggested that the lines of communication on the matter need to be opened so something can be done.
Congressman Matheson stated that he knows people at both Amtrak and Union Pacific and he will check into it.
Commissioner Hatch asked about the state land exchange and stated that on future related land exchanges he would like to see the locals more involved.
Congressman Matheson said that he would solicit support for those kinds of things and would want the local people involved. He said as far as he is concerned that land exchange bill is dead on arrival.
Green River Councilman Ben Coomer said that the land needs to be appraised as it sits in Emery County.
Congressman Matheson said that he did cosponsor the bill and the bill has caused massive controversy and there are three federal agencies investigating. "Consolidating state lands is a good thing to do conceptually. I am a proponent of land exchange.
"Congress won't pass that particular bill with that cloud of controversy over it. Part of the problem with the bill was that there wasn't much input from local folks. One sportsmen group I talked to said their needs weren't even considered. In future action I want folks involved locally. You need to strip away the controversy," said Matheson.
Dunwoody said it seemed to be a common thread that locals do not have a voice. He said in the DOE meeting the previous night that only two people were aware that they were having the meeting and that doesn't qualify as local input.
Congressman Matheson said he hoped everyone had learned a lesson with the land swap bill. It did pass the House, but talking about whistle blowers and that some employees should be slapped is not a good way to get bills passed.
Commissioner Hatch said that he wished Congressman Cannon would back off because the county is now looking to Congressman Matheson for leadership.
Congressman Matheson stated that Congressman Cannon hadn't talked to him about getting the bill going again but as far as he is concerned that bill is dead in its present form. Congressman Matheson said that he is a realist and just wants to try to get something done.
Mayor Johnson wanted to make the congressman aware of the Green River Missile Base and the studies and tests the army has been doing to determine the fate of the base. The army plans to declare the property as excess and the city wishes to be in line to acquire the property at that time.
Congressman Matheson asked the mayor to form a proposal to submit to him as to his role in the matter.
Mayor Johnson pointed out the city's need for the property and that it would be an asset for the city.
Commissioner Kofford questioned the congressman on the situation with PILT. Congressman Matheson explained that PILT funds are given by the government to counties with federal land that they can't collect taxes on. The question is what is the right amount. "I believe in fully funding PILT and will fight for it. It is not a partisan issue."
Mayor Johnson asked the congressman if he supported rural medical needs. Congressman Matheson said he has hired someone who understands rural health issues and it is a big priority for him. He said he believes health care is the issue of the decade and that Utah has done a good job with limited resources.
It was mentioned that the Green River Medical Center as well as the community center survive on grants. The community center has utilized the humanities council to its fullest extent. Congressman Matheson said he likes to hear from people when they feel something has been successful.
Congressman Matheson said, "Our country is faced with many challenges and we are running up a lot of debt. We were operating with a surplus, but much has changed with the economy and the terrorist attacks the federal budget has grown with increased security and increased expenses which I have supported. These situations are not going away and I don't want to raise taxes. We need to spur economic growth because a rising tide carries all boats.
"We have to pay the interest on the debt and it is a perpetual tax obligation that weighs heavy. There is much work to do. We need to work to decrease duplication of services. There are now eight agencies involved in food inspection," said the congressman.
The congressman stressed to those present of his wish to be accessible to those in his district to hear their concerns. He has a toll free telephone number available so citizens can contact him. "We will not be strangers to the Emery County area and will stop as often as we can in the future," said Congressman Matheson.