At the November public lands meeting an update was given on the status of the Emery County land use bill. Commissioner Jeff Horrocks said recently the commissioners attended a Constitutional Defense Committee meeting along with public lands director Ray Petersen. They presented the process of how the lands bill came about and the process Emery County went through to get to the point where they are ready to send the land use bill to the Utah State representatives in Washington where their staff will place the document in bill form and language.
Commissioner Horrocks said they will take the suggestions of the CDC and enhance the bill with their comments. He said they are still working with Senator Mike Lee to send the bill onto the Washington staff. "I want to thank everyone on this committee for what you've done. This is a quality piece of work. We want approval of the process, not necessarily of the content (from the state)."
Petersen said Rep. Mike Noel has a checklist of things he wants. He doesn't want any wilderness above the current wilderness study areas.
Commissioner James Nelson said Senator Lee's office had informed him that Congress won't pass a bill with hard release language. Randy Johnson said there is hard release language in the Washington County Bill. Johnson said the county wants hard release language in their bill and it's better to have that battle back at Congress and to send the bill back with that language in it.
The county is following the standards set up by the state. Other counties will be able to use Emery County's land use bill as a model and standard if it passes Congress.
Johnson commented that the county doesn't want to fight it out in the full state legislature to get approval to send the bill back to Washington, but would rather have the Natural Resource committee pass it off with an approval of the process Emery County has been going through.
Commissioner Nelson said the sense of urgency to get a bill passed has to do with the current administration and the fear they may do something drastic at the last moment of their administration similar to what Pres. Bill Clinton did when creating the Grand Stair-Case Escalante National Monument.
Petersen said it's always been the intent of the lands council to control the process instead of the county being controlled by the federal government. The county doesn't want to be stuck with a designation coming from Washington, but rather a grass roots land use bill.
State Senator David Hinkins was on hand to give an update to the council. He said he has concerns with the SITLA lands which are within the Emery County public land use bill. He agrees with the lands council that the natural resources committee of which he is a member is the direction to take in gaining state approval for the county land use bill. His concerns lie with SITLA property and in other instances the only thing that has kept a road open was because it was accessing SITLA property. "In some places the roads have been kept open due to SITLA lands being there," said Senator Hinkins.
He does understand the sense of urgency the lands council feels. He said the San Rafael Swell is filled with resources. He sees the need for counties to address issues and concerns with uniformity. "I am concerned about taking SITLA lands out as far as grazing and mining interests," said Hinkins. He is also concerned about loss of access to areas.
Gary Kofford, lands council member said when the council began the land use bill process, SITLA didn't want lands within the areas proposed for some type of designation whether wilderness or national conservation areas. They wanted the lands traded out. "Are they important where they are or do you want them traded out. They need to decide how they want it," said Kofford.
Johnson said SITLA hasn't been left out of this process as they were involved since the beginning. After the bill went through it would be determined how to appropriately handle the SITLA lands within the bill. In the Washington County bill SITLA benefitted from land sales. "SITLA has said they want to trade their lands out of any lands with designation," said Johnson.
Senator Hinkins said he is concerned with the grazers on SITLA lands and our resources on these lands. He sees there is a lot of work to do with SITLA. That's why he wants the county officials to meet with the natural resources committee again to address these concerns. He said at the last natural resources committee where the county came to present there wasn't adequate time and the resource committee didn't really know what was going on as far as an Emery County land use bill.
Commissioner Horrocks said in the draft bill there is language which states historical uses will remain and grazing is a historical use.
The county has been told the bill will be difficult to get through Congress with hard release language.
Val Payne, public lands consultant, said Kevin Carter from SITLA views these county land processes as beneficial to SITLA.
Hinkins said the natural resource committee will need more time to look at the issues.
Mistie Christiansen, lands council member said they met several times with the grazers in regards to grazing on SITLA lands. If SITLA lands are traded out then the grazing leases will transfer from SITLA to BLM.
Johnson said there needs to be a standard check list to follow in regards to getting the SITLA issues resolved as there is no way to proceed without these issues being resolved.
Senator Hinkins reminded everyone there are other resources out there on the Swell, too including tar sands and perhaps others yet undiscovered.
Johnson said Emery County has met the standards that the state has already set up.
Christiansen wondered what additional resources are out in the Swell and what the council needs to do to find out what they are.
Payne said the county has looked and sorted through a variety of data on resources in the Swell. "I disagree that the county hasn't been diligent in looking into resources."
Guy Webster, lands council member said, "The language is in the bill that solidifies grazing. You can graze and can continue to graze and fix ponds and if you read it (the bill), that's ensured."
Senatoar Hinkins said, "Personally I disagree with it (the bill), but I will do whatever you want me to do." He said he disagrees with giving up state's rights and turning it over to the federal government.
Christiansen said they have made every effort to contact grazers and water users for the last two years to gain their approval. She feels like the county residents are behind the bill. She stated the farm bureau has a no wilderness policy. Senator Hinkins said that as a grazer he disagrees with the bill.
Commissioner Horrocks said he would like to meet with the natural resources committee when they have more time and give a presentation. He would like their support.
Johnson requested the county be given a list before hand of what the committee would like to have addressed and the concerns they have so the county can specifically address those issues.
Webster said this has not been a rushed process and there have been meetings, field trips, talks and he feels a good draft has been prepared during the past two and a half years and everyone has been involved.
Johnson said it's not fair for fears involving other counties like Grand County to interfere with our process. "Don't use it (Grand County) as a damper for the other counties process."
Payne feels like the hesitancy of the natural resources committee lies in the fact they don't know enough about the Emery County lands use bill and they aren't familiar with it.
Petersen said there is a lot to gain by meeting with the natural resources committee.
Bruce Wilson, committee chairman said his main concern is the natural resources committee support the process of a county driven land use bill. The process is important and not focus so much on the specifics of the bill.
Kofford said in regards to the SITLA lands that the natural resources committee needs to define how they feel about these lands. Are we better off trading these lands out or leaving them where they are? If we trade them out then we lose all freedom in regards to those lands. "If the legislature likes the state lands where they are then leave them where they are, they need to say that."
It was pointed out that Senate Bill 221 gives specific language on how counties are to proceed in these matters.