Public lands and their future in Emery County cause debate at public lands meeting.
Commissioner Gary Kofford introduced an idea to the Emery County Public Lands Council of hiring Val Payne to work as a conciliator on the land use bill being worked on for the county. Payne is a former public lands director for Emery County and recently retired from the Utah State public lands office. Payne has recently started his own consulting business called Payne Relief, natural resource consulting, NEPA certified, public lands planning, environmental assessment review and conflict resolution. Payne has 30 years working with public land issues.
Kofford said they have been working on a draft contract for the past eight weeks. He hopes the hiring of Payne will move the Emery County Public Lands use bill forward in a more organized effort. Payne would receive $25,000 for a year's worth of service to both the county and SUWA and they would pay half the cost. Kofford viewed the arrangement as a real compliment to Payne to have SUWA agree to the arrangement. "The county feels it's a good fit. Val is aware of the county's feelings on public lands."
Lands council member Guy Webster asked who Payne would report to. Kofford said all the details haven't been worked out yet. Payne would take a position in the middle and work to bring both sides together. SUWA at one extreme and the county at the other. "That's his charge to bring together," said Kofford.
Audience member Clifford Snow wondered if the arrangement would be transparent.
Kofford said public lands director Ray Petersen has been facilitating the field trips to the desert. "As you leave, (the field trip) the county still has their position and SUWA has their position and there is no middle ground. To have a land use bill we have to reach an agreement that is acceptable to all. SUWA gives, the county gives, this is what we are trying to do with this mediation. Somewhere we need to pull together and come to a consensus."
In the next public lands council Payne will present his outline of how to go about reconcilling both sides to get a land use bill put together that all can agree upon.
Webster said everything Payne does will have to be out in the open. "If the public knows that Emery County is negotiating with SUWA, that might upset the public. I feel there is too much negotiation with SUWA. I have been fighting for the roads we want open and SUWA wants them closed. I don't want to negotiate with SUWA. We all know what SUWA wants and that is the America's Red Rock Wilderness Act. All that pink and blue area on the map," said Webster.
Bruce Wilson, lands council chairman said he sees the process as bringing everyone in on an equal footing.
Ray Bloxham, from SUWA, said Val Payne will work at information gathering. He sees the process as having several options along the way to negotiating a bill.
Mistie Christiansen, lands council member said she sees the need for more manpower for the county as they work towards a land use bill, but there will be a public perception problem the county will have to deal with if they partner with SUWA. Christiansen said she has been on the council for several months and doesn't see where the county is any closer to having a bill finalized and she believes Val can help the process along. "Be careful how you handle it," cautioned Christiansen.
Priscilla Burton, lands council member, said, "Would it be better if the county handled the whole bill?"
Kofford said the county couldn't afford the whole bill for Payne and the $12,500 isn't in the budget either. Kofford said this discussion was why he brought the issue up in lands council to get everyone's input. No decision has been made regarding Payne's contract and this decision to hire Payne or not can only be made in a commission meeting as an agenda item.
Webster said he feels the monetary burden of hiring Val should be shared not just by the county, but all the other entities who have a stake in public lands, water users, grazers, ATV and motorcycle clubs; maybe they would all want to contribute.
Payne said he will work to see all interests are represented on a piece of ground. He said nothing has come out of the field trips already conducted. He likened the issue to a big puzzle but we don't know what the picture looks like. All the subcommittees are a piece, the field trips are a piece; "We have the pieces, but they aren't being put together," said Payne. Payne is to remain neutral through the process.
Kofford said Val will take the ideas and carry them forward.
Marc Stilson, water rights, said it might work if all the entities contributed to the funding. He said maybe the RC&D council could handle the business aspect of the contract and all entities could contribute through them.
Sherrel Ward, council member said he thinks we need someone to go over everything, because we seem to be at a stalemate. "We need someone to put it all together." Ward said maybe the council could advertise what they are attempting to do and any group willing could make a contribution.
Webster said reports need to be made to the lands council regarding Payne's activities. Webster said he thinks all the people on the lands council need to attend the field trips. Webster said he has major concerns on what he perceives as negotiations with SUWA. Webster pointed out there are other land users besides SUWA. The grazers, ATV community, motorcycles, horses, oil and gas and mining, all need to be brought into the loop and included in the field trips.
Wilson said Mark H. Williams has been the representative for the OHV community and if others want to join in they are welcome to attend any of the field trips.
Gary Petty, council member, made a motion for the lands council to support the county commission in the hiring of Val to gather information.
Kofford said he introduced the idea of hiring Payne where there could be open discussion, if the lands council is uneasy or if the county is moving too fast, then the council can decide against the contract. "It's an open forum and we want to keep it open. It doesn't mean we're getting in bed with SUWA.
Bloxham said Payne is being put in a difficult position, but a unique position to facilitate the land use process along. Val knows the laws and won't leave anyone out of the process.
Kofford said, "Val is going to try to work to a point of bringing all sides to the table to arrive at a conclusion, to arrive at a lands bill." Before a bill will be picked up and sponsored by the Utah delegation then all the arguments must be settled and a clear idea of what needs to be in the bill will have to be established. "You said you wanted to pursue this, (land use bill) and this is just a step," said Kofford. He believes the lands council has done their best to bring all aspects of the bill out to the public and believes it will get tougher from here on in.
Payne said between now and the next council meeting he will prepare a presentation.
Christiansen said the council is working on an Emery County land use bill. She believes she wasn't elected to the lands council to represent SUWA, but to represent Emery County. Her position is an Emery County lands bill needs to represent Emery County.
Kofford pointed out in working on the contract for Payne they are working towards Val working on his own, not for the county and not for SUWA; but as independent contractor.
Payne explained a little of what he believes his role will be. He didn't like the word mediator or facilitator because in the end mediators and facilitators don't really care of the outcome and it isn't even important that the parties like each other. Payne said his role will be a conciliator. The definition of a conciliator is to overcome distrust or hostility, to placate, to win over, to make compatible or to reconcile. Payne said he will try to get away from fears and animosity.
Webster said he would be more comfortable if Emery County would put in the full amount to hire Val. "In dealing with public perception we would be better off," said Webster.
The council voted on whether or not to support the county in hiring Val. There were three negative votes and three positive votes. Since there was a tie the council chairman, Wilson voted to break the tie and he voted yes. Sherrel Ward, Gary Petty, Bruce Wilson and Priscilla Burton voted yes and Randall Stilson, Mistie Christiansen and Guy Webster voted against the proposal.