The Emery County Public Lands Council met in their regularly scheduled meeting on June 11 at 10 a.m. Those present were Chairman Dennis Worwood and members, Joe Fielder, Kirk Johansen, Val Payne, Craig Johansen, Tom Roush, Dickson Huntington, Vernell Rowley, Wes Curtis, and Commissioners Ira Hatch, Randy Johnson, and Drew Sitterud.
The first item on the agenda was the approval of the previous meeting minutes. The subcommittee reports were next on the agenda. Worwood said a farmer had told him that his hay was, 'dry enough to bale but not tall enough to cut.' Curtis said the Bureau of Land Management RAC board had recently been in the area and had complimented the lands council and the Emery County Commission for the leadership and the proactive involvement they have shown in dealing with public lands issues.
Roush spoke about the National Trails Day and the Public Lands Day. He said the forest service had requested the two days be combined next year in celebration of their anniversary. The item was discussed and the consensus was to keep the two days as separate and distinct, with one project being done on BLM ground and another project for forest service land.
Curtis said the hearing for the heritage bill has been postponed and was still pending. He said Brenda Barrett from the Department of the Interior was paying a visit to Utah to look at the proposed heritage area in Emery County as well as the proposed Highway 89 area. He said she had met with Governor Mike Leavitt the previous day to discuss the Utah areas. There are currently 23 heritage areas in existence, with 21 bills filed this year to create more heritage areas. But, the fact that Brenda is here means we are being noticed and recognized and this is a good opportunity to show what we've got, Curtis said.
Kathleen Truman told about the tour that had been planned for Barrett during her visit to the area. She said they wanted to give her a taste of the western frontier. Truman also reported that a heritage tourism workshop is being planned for July 25 and 26 at the museum. There will be several presentations including rock art, Green River history and cultural resources of Emery County. "JoAnn Behling is the president of the historical society and she has sent in letters to Elaine Zieroth from the forest service to request consulting status on the Seely Guard Station restoration. We want to be involved with trying to preserve that piece of history. We want to partner to preserve what we have," said Truman.
Worwood then called on Margaret Fugate-Swasey to tell the group how her field trip to Washington DC to receive her award went. She said they had a nice trip and her sister went back with her. "The BLM set up some nice tours for us. We had the award dinner at the interior building. We toured the monuments and memorials and we were treated very well," said Fugate-Swasey.
Commissioner Johnson gave a brief update on the RS-2477 road issues. He mentioned their first choice had been to submit the roads and have recordable disclaimers of interest granted. The Justice Department does not have the authority to give quiet title for the roads. The BLM has authority to declare no interest in the road. BLM does not claim to own the roads and this can open the door for us to claim ownership. These recordable disclaimers of interest can stand up in court. A quiet title could not. The recordable disclaimers of interest were the original idea; the quiet title came along later.
He also explained that because the Justice Department doesn't believe they have that authority and they do not want to taint the process because of their lack of authority. Acknowledging that they have title might set a precedence that someone besides the county might have title. Some attorneys say to take Title 5 on these roads; to get a Title 5 from the BLM to use the road and the BLM is willing to give Title 5 which doesn't affect the RS-2477. This has all come into the mix.
Rowley wondered if Class A road money had to be spent on road upkeep. Johnson explained that some road maintenance had to take place on these roads before FLPMA in 1976. The environmentalists think we are trying to create roads just to prevent wilderness and that is not the case. This is not an effort to prevent wilderness. Environmentalists are suing over the process and they sue over a particular road. Payne said the environmentalists are making noise because they believe an attempt by the county is being made to make new roads.
Huntington was next with a report on grazing. He said they have concerns that the elk herd on Horn Mountain and the drought have devastated the mountain. He said representatives from the Division of Wildlife Resources used to come to cattleman meetings and they have stopped doing that. Twenty years ago they had leveled off the elk herd at 2500 animals and now they have excess of 12,000 and there is nothing left. We would like to invite the DWR to a public lands meeting to respond to the issue. It is an environmental issue and there is damage to the resource and it is a disservice to the resource. There should be further discussion."
Curtis said the director of the DWR should be contacted to let them know what the issue is. Huntington said, "We haven't discussed it with the DWR but we see a need to do that. The resources are not there for that many animals."
Kirk Johansen said the DWR is not responsible and accountable to anyone but themselves. He said the cattlemen are responsible to the forest service and the BLM and they are regulated and managed upon these public lands. The DWR should be managed like the cattle and if they are over grazing then their numbers need to be cut.
Commissioner Sitterud said according to the DWR they have only 8,000 elk. Commissioner Hatch said that might be too many during a drought period. Hatch also said in the last commission meeting a representative from the DWR was there and they spoke to him about reducing numbers in the future depending on range conditions. Livestock is taking a hit this year, said Hatch.
It was pointed out they used to have interagency meetings between the forest service, BLM, DWR and the cattlemen to hammer out proposals for big game control. Now they do their own thing and don't answer to anybody. Rowley had to disagree with that statement because he said he knows of cases where the DWR pays for elk damage in Huntington Canyon.
Craig Johansen was next with the water report. He said there is less and less and there are no changes from what has been previously reported. The dire prediction is that the creeks will dry up by August. Cottonwood peaked 10 days ago. We are headed for hard times on water.
Commissioner Hatch gave a report on the meeting they went to with Skyline Mine, Utah Power and the commissions from Sanpete and Carbon counties and also the water conservancy district. He said in the mining operation they have come into contact with a huge amount of water coming up from the floor. Some studies have been done by the mine and also Utah Power. The prognosis is the water is from an underground aquifer and is old water.
They are alleviating pressure by pumping the water out. It goes out through Eccles Creek and into Scofield. They drilled a well in James Canyon and that water is being pumped into Electric Lake at a rate of 2,000 gallons a minute. According to data Electric Lake has not presently changed.
The mine is proposing to leave the area in question and proceed with mining leases which lie to the west of the existing mine and reaching into Gooseberry and Winter Quarters which lies north of the existing works and is in the Fish Creek drainage. During the interim, while the mining takes place elsewhere. They will find out if water pressure can be relieved enough to mine Flat Canyon and move back in. It was agreed we would go to the CIB and ask for a grant to do the feasibility study to see if something can be done to relieve the pressure of the water.
This opens up the question of where does the water go and who does it belong to? The state engineer was noncommittal in the matter. Information is being gathered and they will be going before the CIB with the request for emergency funds. Commissioner Sitterud said that the pumping has not relieved any of the pressure. Hatch said they are not keeping up with the water. Studies in the area say faults running to the east and west are open while those running to the north and south are closed. The crack runs approximately 75 miles, but no one is really sure where the water is coming from. That is why they came up with the feasibility study idea said Hatch. The have mine data and Utah Power data, but need a complete analysis of the situation. The state engineer did say the water should go back to the drainage it is from.
Hatch pointed out the main gusher the fossil water is being pumped from the mine workings, but the well in James Canyon is outside the mine workings and that water is what is running into Electric Lake.
Peggy Harrison from Congressman Cannon's office pointed out the financial drain the water has been on the mine. They spend $500,000 a month on pumping and maintenance and their power bill for operating the pumps is $400,000.
It was pointed out when the mining moves out of the present area the pumping will stop. Craig Johansen wondered if the water would run out on its own when they stop pumping, but with the elevation of the portal being what it is the water will not run out on its own.
The next item on the agenda was the BLM update from Floyd Johnson. He said they have looked at the comments for the route designation. They have 1,000 distinct letters which will all be evaluated and considered. They are moving towards the finalization of the environmental assessment on the Moore cut-off road. We are moving slowly ahead on all projects reported Johnson.
Rowley wondered how people are leaning on the route designations. Johnson said they are reviewing the comments and a lot of people like alternative three or four and most of the OHV people liked alternative one. Some of the people are just stating an opinion and some have a valid reason for their choice. Comments will be weighed and considered and if they point out deficiencies or inadequacies in the policy we will look to see if a change needs to be made. We will summarize and give everything to the decision makers.