A storm of questions, concern and outrage erupted over last week's proposal that the president declare the San Rafael Swell a national monument.
Governor Mike Leavitt's announcement concerning the San Rafael Swell during his Jan. 28 State of the State Address came after a Jan. 26 public meeting in Castle Dale concerning efforts by county leadership to do something to protect the Swell during the past several years.
At the meeting Governor Leavitt was present as the Emery County Public Lands Council presented to those assembled the idea of having President Bush declare the Swell a national monument.
While public comment during the public meeting was, for the most part, supportive of the proposal, many felt that they had been blindsided by the county and the governor when the announcement was made to carry the proposal forward. While commissioners admitted that they could have done a better job explaining that after the Jan. 26 public meeting the proposal process would begin, they are quick to point out that this is only the beginning of the process, not the end.
"It's not a done deal, there will be at least 90 days of public comment," said Commissioner Randy Johnson.
Currently the monument proposal is just that, a proposal from the county. From the county the proposal goes through the governor's office to the president's office, who will forward the request to the Department of the Interior to solicit public comments and prepare a final draft of the proposal. According to Johnson public comments will be sought from anyone who wishes to make a comment from across the country. But at the core of the process will be the proposal sent forward by the county.
"The vision of Emery County will be at the core of the process, with comments from outside the area," Johnson said.
Following the governor's announcement Emery County found itself in the eye of a storm of comments, both for and against the monument proposal. Off highway vehicle groups have voiced their opposition to the monument and environmental groups have raised questions about the process involved in the proposal. Representatives of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance have said they are withholding judgment on the proposal for the time being, although in a Jan. 29 Salt Lake Tribune article Heidi McIntosh, attorney for SUWA, indicated that the public lands council and county commissioners have not been forthcoming with their proposal.
"All we were looking at is a proposal," responded Johnson. "Our only obligation we felt before pushing this proposal forward was our public. SUWA will have ample time to put their input forward."
Concern that the proposal will end up doing more harm than good is on the minds of many and as is the opinion that it is already too late to let their voices be heard.
"They think this is a done deal and that's just not the case," said Commissioner Ira Hatch.
A week after the proposal was made public, county leadership was asking for everyone not to rush into judgment before learning all of the facts of the proposal.
"What we're asking is for everyone to keep an open mind until they see what the end result turns out to be," said Johnson.