Sen. Mike Lee talks with Mike McCandless the Emery County Economic Development Director.
Emery County was treated to a visit from Sen. Mike Lee on April 3. He met with county commissioners and other county officials as well as the public in Green River and in Castle Dale.
He said Emery County is the heartland of Utah's economic future. "There are those who want to take that away from us. Most of our land is owned by someone else. I am concerned about these issues."
Sen. Lee said with the federal government as the overseer on 65 percent of Utah lands it prevents multiple use and over the last few years use has become less and less. With the statehood enabling act the federal government was supposed to sell off that land and 5 percent of the proceeds would go back to the state for education. That never happened. They never did in Utah what they have done in other states. "They never made good on their promise here," said Sen. Lee.
Sen. Lee said he would do what he could to help promote the use of coal. "There are people in Congress that would like to outlaw the use of coal. It would make all of us poorer and would exact a horrible toll especially in communities like this."
Sen. Lee said he supports the Emery County public lands use bill and will do what he can to see it pass when it comes to Congress. Currently the Emery County Public lands use bill is stuck at the state level. The next step is a comprehensive report that must be compiled to present to the governor's public land office. The county officials said some of the legislators in Utah are against Emery County's bill. Many of them do not want any more wilderness designation at all. Ray Petersen, public lands director for the county said Emery County has resources here that must be protected that are just as important as energy resources. He sees Emery County's bill as a way to do both, provide for energy and protect the environment. The county has concerns with the state legislature wanting to craft Emery County's bill.
Sen. Lee said he thinks he can help in that regard with the state legislature. He wants the county process to receive state approval in keeping with his intent to afford states more power in how they are governed. Having state approval for the county's land use bill is a step in the right direction. Sen. Lee introduced Mike Freeman as the go to man for land issues. He urged the county officials to keep him updated as the county land use bill moves forward.
Sen. Lee said he understands Emery County's frustration with garnering state approval for their bill, but he feels the county is a subdivision of the state and the state should have approval on what the county is presenting. "Let me help you get it through the state legislature," said Sen. Lee. Emery County Commissioner James Nelson said he lives in fear that Pres. Obama might create a monument on the Swell with the use of the Antiquities Act.
Emery County Economic development director, Mike McCandless said the Emery County bill deals with existing uses and works to ensure those uses continue, grazing, open roads and routes and to preserve access as well as protect resources.
Commissioner Jeff Horrocks said the Emery County land use bill was the result of 2.5 years of work which involved all users and their input. "Everybody has a buy in," said Commissioner Horrocks.
Sen. Lee said we need to work to do everything we can to minimize the risk of monument creation.
Petersen said he is working to prepare the report for the legislature and it will be ready by the next session so the bill can be approved and move forward.
McCandless said the issues raised by opponents of the bill must be addressed along the way so no hold-ups arise at the next legislative session.
There was some talk of the lawsuit that Utah has filed for the return of federal lands to the state. McCandless said this lawsuit, kind of flies in the face of the Emery County bill. The county has had six roads in litigation for eight years. Some of the legislators like the lawsuit model.
Commissioner Nelson said he had met with the Bureau of Land Management and was told the BLM is in 90 percent agreement on 90 percent of the roads.
Petersen said he believes the road issues in our area have been resolved.
Sen. Lee said Emery County may have chosen a different path, but the are going down the road to the same place. Some of Emery County's neighboring counties have been supportive of the Emery County bill.
Petersen said, "I have no problem getting the state's support, but they aren't going to rewrite our bill."
Commissioner Nelson said a couple of years ago the state was asking for the county's to do their own land use bills, and now they want all bills brought back to the state.
Commissioner Horrocks expressed concern that any major changes to the bill might cause supporters of the county's bill to walk away. The county has worked with the Wilderness Society and they are in support of the bill.
Sen. Lee said he doesn't have the authority to stop Emery County from introducing their bill in Congress, but he would like to see that step of state approval be accomplished before the bill advances.
Sen. Lee said he will work to get Washington out of what it's not supposed to be doing and let Washington do what it's intended to do.