Land use is always a big topic of discussion for Emery County residents. At the recent Emery County Public Lands Council meeting, Randy Johnson, who is now a public lands consultant for Washington County in their pursuit of a land use bill, spoke to the council. He said Governor Olene Walker wanted to do something about the wilderness stalemate and met extensively with counties and state government on the issue. It was decided they could do three things, do nothing, author a statewide plan or address land planning issues on a county by county basis. Counties were encouraged to step forward if they had an interest.
Washington County was the first county to step forward with Millard following a few months later. Washington County is now to the point where the language in their bill is being finalized and the bill will be introduced in the United States Senate by Sen. Robert Bennett. Beaver and Iron counties have expressed interest and are loosely patterning their bills after Clark and Lincoln counties in Nevada.
These bills are not wilderness bills, but land use plans which deal with wilderness. In Nevada, the committee worked to consider everything on the land, power, water, grazing, everything pertaining to the land. Congress is beginning to see the impacts people live with in order to provide these types of services to other parts of the country.
"You will not see a wilderness bill meet with any success. The bill needs to include total land use. Washington County set up a council similar to this public lands council. People with as many points of view as possible are represented on this council, including SUWA, Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society. They established the ground rules that there would be a free interchange of information and not a forced consensus. The purpose of the council was to gather data. A layer of information was created for the working group. They were asked what data they wanted before them and that data was gathered. As information was discussed, every acre of the land was scrutinized. The counties were encouraged to dream big and list economic development opportunities as well during this process. This group reached out to everyone in the county, and listened to all who wanted to present before the working group. All agencies played an advisory role as well as the state people," said Johnson.
The bill will be written with all the information and data gathered in the planning meetings. The bill looks at the water corridor, power and transportation lines, road loops, changed boundaries on a WSA, added wilderness to a primitive area and incorporates tortoise habitat and water projects.
All counties are looking to Washington County to see what success they will have in the process. "If their bill is defeated, it doesn't bode well for others, but most of the counties feel it will be worthwhile because the information gathered will be used to upgrade and update county plans, many of which are 10-15 years old," said Johnson.
The environmentalists have committed to things which Johnson said he was surprised with, but probably in the end they will oppose the bill. "There is a good deal of support for these kinds of bills in Congress," said Johnson.
Commissioner Ira Hatch wondered where Johnson saw Emery County in the process. Johnson said much of what you see in other counties has been patterned after what Emery County has done in the past. "Add to what you've already done. Build on the National Conservation Area, comprehensive plan. That plan is now 10-12 years old. It's not taboo now to talk about power corridors and energy production. Update that comprehensive plan," said Johnson.
Hatch said he was glad to see the new approach with land use plans and not strictly wilderness bills.
"It has to be this kind of a package. If we're successful in Washington County, it could be helpful to Emery County. The mayors are also drawn into these plans. Build on what you've done and work on more detail. Next year there might be legislation which could include several counties at a time. In Washington County they met once a month and it took a year to gather all the data. I think Emery County could do it in half that time. If you start the process this year it would be ready for early next year," said Johnson.
The plans are all subject to the approval of the county commissioners from that county. Johnson said that Sen. Bennett is both engaged and excited to be involved in the process.
Johnson said environmentalists have created a standard for wilderness that is not feasible. What is untrampled? What is roadless? Wilderness is what Congress says it is.