After two and a half years of hard work the Emery County Public Lands Council presented their draft Emery County Land use bill to the Emery County Commission on June 14. The bill will now be forwarded onto the Washington Delegation with Rep. Rob Bishop the most likely sponsor for the bill.
Ray Petersen, public lands director and Bruce Wilson the chairman from the lands council presented the document to the commission. Commissioner Jeff Horrocks expressed his appreciation for the hard work of Petersen and the lands council members as they prepared the document.
Several subcommittees were set up and the individual committees held meetings concerning travel and transportation, mining and gas development, grazing, water rights and other public lands interests.
Wilson acknowledged all the members of the public lands council including: Gary Petty, Gary Kofford, Guy Webster, Jon Gilbert, Randall Stilson, Mistie Christiansen, Priscilla Burton, Ed Geary, Chuck Semborski and Sherrel Ward. "There have been numerous participants who have sacrificed personally to get and keep this project going," said Wilson.
The project was started to stave off any possible interference from outside the county and to build consensus within the county as how to manage public lands. There was also talk at the time and still is regarding the San Rafael Swell becoming a national monument by the Obama administration. With the introduction of the public land use bill for Emery County produced by Emery County it is the hope the lands issues within the county can be dealt with for a final time and have the issue put to rest.
There have been field trips, informational meetings and many hours of work to develop a map which shows the various designations being recommended for the Bureau of Land Management Lands and SITLA lands upon the desert as well as forest service lands on the Manti. Work has begun with SITLA for possible trade out lands for those SITLA lands contained in the proposal.
The draft of the document can be found on the Emery County website with an accompanying map. There will be a series of public meetings where the public can make comments and give suggestions for anything that was left out of the bill. The lands council feels they have a comprehensive document, but they are open to the fact they may have overlooked something that is important to users in the county.
These meetings will be on June 22 at Huntington Elementary; June 23 in Ferron at the multipurpose building, June 29 in Green River at the John Wesley Powell Museum and June 30 in Castle Dale at the old courthouse all meeting time is 7-9 p.m.
The council will add any changes to the draft document after which it will be forwarded to the Washington delegation. It is hoped the bill can be introduced in this session of Congress.
Petersen feels the draft bill is a good product which reflects the multiple needs use Emery County has experienced in the past and hopes to continue into the future.
Petersen said the council has been asked 'why' they are doing this a lot along the way. The best answer he can give them is for control of the land locally. The desire is to designate these lands without changing their current use. All designations are subject to valid and existing rights. This bill doesn't close any existing roads or trails and in fact requests that 40 or more miles of roads now closed be reopened. It addresses oil and gas and mineral development, non and motorized use and grazing; all of these uses can continue under the plan. Petersen pointed out the open house meetings are part of a promise made to the people of Emery County that when the draft was prepared it would be brought back before the county. These meetings will be an opportunity to look at the draft bill and make comments. A new web page has been developed on the county website where the draft is found more easily and the public can review the draft before coming to the meetings.
Another requirement which came at the request of Sen. Mike Lee is to have the Utah Legislature review Emery County's plan before the plan moves to Washington. Lee feels this review will keep in step with the state's having some say in issues dealing with federal land within their states.
It is the hope of the lands council and county commission that this step will be simply a formality on the bill's way to Washington. They don't expect any delay at the state level.
Petersen said they have worked closely with the Washington delegation throughout the entire process.
Commissioner James Nelson commended the lands council for their work stating it has truly been a grass roots effort. Commissioner Laurie Pitchforth added her thanks to the lands council and all the subcommittees who have worked on the land use bill.
Commissioner Horrocks thanked the council for the draft and said after the public meetings and state approval the bill will be sent to Washington where it will be polished and placed in appropriate bill language and readied for presentation to Congress for approval.
At the beginning of the process SUWA was involved with the county but withdrew about halfway through the process stating when the bill was complete they would voice their objections at that time. SUWA has stated they will not be happy with anything less than the America's Red Rock Wilderness Act which encompasses vast amounts of Emery County. The draft bill the lands council has worked upon has taken the current Wilderness Study Areas and recommended them for wilderness designation with some boundary perfections.
The draft bill also recommends the Mining District National Conservation Area and the area encompassing the Cleveland/Lloyd dinosaur quarry as an NCA.