Rep. Jim Matheson visited Emery County recently to meet with the county commissioners and serve dinner at the Fair lamb fry. The congressman began with an explanation of his actions on the recent vote concerning the RS-2477 situation. He explained that he had introduced a substitute amendment but was ruled out of order because the introduction was past the deadline. "This amendment is not a solution, but a stop gap to ease some private property issues and those issues need to be addressed," said Matheson.
Rep. Matheson explained that this memorandum of understanding will probably move forward into litigation. When the voting was complete, nobody came away happy, both sides were very upset. "We know what roads there are, let's designate them and move on," said the congressman.
Commissioner Ira Hatch expressed his appreciation of Matheson and encouraged both sides to keep the dialogue open and honest. Hatch also addressed another issue facing Emery County at the time. "The wild and scenic rivers issue has the potential to be a wolf in sheep's clothing," said Hatch. "Right now we are in the planning stages and these issues need to be addressed now. The forest service has been very helpful, but we do not have a successful relationship with the Bureau of Land Management," Hatch said. He told the congressman that the county does not need more people involved, but it needs good judgment to be used now.
"These rivers are our lifeblood in Emery County. The forest service recognizes that. We have no problem if they (the rivers) meet the criteria, but very few of our waterways meet that," said Hatch. Rep. Matheson informed Commissioner Hatch that he is very interested and will learn more about the issue so he can be of more help to the county.
Commissioner Hatch proceeded to brief the congressman on the water situation at Electric Lake. This situation effects three counties along with Arch Coal and PacifiCorp. A detailed study is available and plans were made to meet in the future to discuss this issue in depth.
Rep. Matheson informed the commissioners that it is his feeling that coal fired power plants for energy supply are where investment needs to be made. "Coal is Utah's most abundant resource and will be for many lifetimes. Natural gas prices are becoming too high and serious investment and interest in the coal fired plants is being contemplated." said Matheson.
Commissioner Hatch then turned the discussion to SR 6. His concerns about the highway being the most dangerous road in the state. "It is a major connecting highway between Denver and Salt Lake and it is only two lanes," said Hatch. "We realize that a lot of time and money have already been spent, but there remains a great need. Any consideration at this point would be appreciated," said Hatch.
Rep. Matheson responded by saying, "We need to make progress on SR 6, we know it is a major trucking route, but the highway bill is stalled, because nobody knows where to get the amount of money needed for the country's highways. Big roads means big expense and it just isn't there."
Commissioner Hatch alerted the congressman to the beetle killed spruce trees in the forests. "We are devastated now, something has got to be done. Our resource is disappearing. There are some options and those need to be explored now. We realize the need for good conservation practices and good management for all concerned user groups," Hatch said.
"The forest bill is coming soon and that will help a lot," said Matheson.
Commissioner Gary Kofford revisited the RS-2477 issue and informed the congressman that a staffer from his office should be at the public lands council meetings. "Emery County was at the forefront of the issue with the formation of the public lands council and that group of people are the most knowledgable around concerning the public lands and the roads," said Kofford. "We need to get this issue resolved so as commissioners, we can get on with the business of serving Emery County. Our resources could be used better other places. We need to decide what to do with the San Rafael and do it," Kofford said.
Commissioner Kofford informed the group that a movement is circulating now to abandon the current squabbles and go back to the 1992 arrangement and start the whole process over. "Somewhere all the groups involved need to come to an agreement," said Kofford.
Rep. Matheson said, "I think the disparate numbers need to come together. In Congress, it is easier to defeat something than to pass it. We need a consensus. All the stakeholders need to buy in."
Mike Reberg, Rep. Matheson's state director informed the commissioners that a search is underway to find a representative to cover Eastern Utah and attend all the pertinent meetings to keep the congressman up to date on the happenings in his district.
As the meeting concluded, Rep. Matheson and the Emery County Commissioners agreed to keep the lines of communication open, keep each party informed and to do all possible to help each party with the jobs at hand.