|Governor Mike Leavitt introduces Dr. Keith Allred to the crowd at the Castle Valley Pageant Site. Allred will lead a project to gather ideas on a monument from the local area, state and across the country.|
A group of approximately 100 people gathered at the Castle Valley Pageant Site overlooking the San Rafael Swell on Thursday to hear the latest approach in a long and often arduous effort to do something to protect the San Rafael for future generations.
Governor Mike Leavitt, Bob Bennett, associate director of the Utah Bureau of Land Management, and the Emery County commissioners welcomed the gathering of concerned citizens to unveil a "community dialogue process" which will attempt to answer the question as to whether the president should declare the San Rafael Swell a national monument.
The idea of having President George W. Bush declare the San Rafael a national monument was first addressed on Jan. 26, when a public meeting was held in Castle Dale and county commissioners and the governor proposed that a monument designation might be the last, best hope for the county to have some say in the management of the area. When Governor Leavitt discussed the idea during his Jan. 28 state of the state address land use advocates cried foul, stating that the public was being blindsided and the monument idea was already a "done deal."
The governor and county officials did their best to dispel that on Thursday, unveiling a plan where the county, state and federal government would work together as partners and gather community input on the best way to deal with the management of the San Rafael.
"An idea is on the table. There is no proposal on the table," the governor said. "The San Rafael Swell is an extraordinary treasure deserving appropriate and conscientious stewardship," said Leavitt. "I encourage residents to voice their concerns, give suggestions and get involved in this historic collaborative opportunity."
During the meeting the specifics about the information and public feedback program were explained. Opportunities will be available for people to learn more about the human and natural resources that make up the Swell. An information website has been developed at www.ut.blm.gov/sanrafaelswell. On the site information on the public information process will be made available and citizens will have an opportunity to make comments.
Workshops will also be held in October to gain input on what people value most about the Swell and their thoughts on its management. Feedback will also be sought from public opinion surveys that will be developed. Help in the development of the survey questions will come from the very same interest groups which have, in the past, fought bitterly over their designs for the Swell. The surveys will be sent out in random samples to citizens of Emery County, those of the state of Utah, as well as at the national level. The survey will also be available to any who choose to complete one via the website.
The study is expected to take up to six months, with a BLM final report going to the president which consolidates inventory findings, public perspectives and recommendations from the county and the state.
|Commissioner Randy Johnson addresses a gathering of concerned citizens during a meeting on the monument concept.|
Overseeing the public information process will be Dr. Keith Allred, a professor from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, who specializes in dispute resolution and mediation. Allred, a Carbon County native, spoke to the audience at the pageant site and addressed their concerns.
"It is historic that we're having this kind of meeting prior to the declaration of a monument rather than afterwards," Allred said.
Allred was perhaps speaking of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, which was met with large public outcry when then President Bill Clinton declared it so in 1996 while at the Grand Canyon. Governor Leavitt pointed to that monument declaration as the way not to do things.
Fears about public comments from the Castle Valley area being drowned out by those from the state and national level were addressed during a brief question and answer segment of the meeting, as was the possibility that special interest groups on both sides might manipulate the survey process.
Allred admitted that there was that possibility with the surveys available to anyone on the website, but the random sampling surveys sent out should offset any attempts at manipulation. "The hope is that we genuinely listen to the public at large and not just the special interest groups," Allred said.
As to whether the voices of Emery County citizens should have any more weight than those from across the country, Allred said that the San Rafael Swell was public land.
"The people of the United States own the land, not the people of Emery County, not the people of Utah, but the people of the United States," Allred said.
Also asked by a member of the audience was what would be the outcome should the people of the county decide in November that it does not want the county to pursue the monument idea. The question as to whether the county should do so or not will be on the November ballot after a successful petition drive by opponents of the idea. In response to the question Commissioner Randy Johnson stated that if the people of the county vote no to such an idea, then the county would pursue it no further, but the process would continue even without county support because it came by way of direction from the president to solicit information on the concept. "But he (the president) has told me that if local support for it wasn't there then he would not support it," Johnson said.
The government partnership to solicit information and opinion about the idea of creating a monument and how it should be managed has never been done before and the historic significance of that fact was relayed to those attending the meeting by Governor Leavitt. "The commitment that is being made today is that we're going to do this right. It will be an effort to not only do this right but a test that has national significance to prove that a process done this openly can work."