In my opinion this has been a sad election for Emery County. The defeat of the Monument Initiative took us out of the forefront of western counties trying to resolve their own destiny to a point where we do not even know what direction we are going.
We had a chance to work with the president, the department on the interior, and the governor of the state of Utah to design a monument that would manage the San Rafael Swell in a way that would protect those values most important to the people of this county and we voted it down.
All the people I have talked to since the election have said, "We have to go on, we can't let it stop here, we have too much to lose". I agree but what can we do? This was not a debate about "the meaning of is". We voted whether "the Emery County Commission shall, by resolution, endorse the establishment of 621,000 acres of public land in Emery County as the "San Rafael Western Heritage Monument." A sizable majority of the voters said no. I realize the public lands council and the commission can get around it just by making the monument 620,000 acres, but it is going to be difficult for them to say they have the support of the public when the public voted no.
I am finding that I am apparently not the only one who does not know what should happen as a result of the election. It appears the opposition is just as confused. Last Friday I got a letter from the leader of the opposition, Mark H. Williams saying he is going to have a meeting to establish a new plan that we will all love. He is bringing in "outside experts" and news media from the Wasatch Front. I don't think that's what the ballot initiative that I voted on said. It is ironic that they seem to be saying they want to do what the monument process was already doing, but they worked very hard to convince us to vote to kill that process.
Then on Sunday I read another letter from Williams in the Salt Lake Tribune. This letter was a learned dissertation on FLPMA (Federal Land Policy Management Act) and the protections it supposedly provides for the local citizens.
Williams' second letter was in response to a Tribune Editorial on Nov. 10 that stated: "Federal, State, and Local officials should move the monument question to a broader stage, one less easily manipulated. Emery County voters have had their say. Millions of others deserve the same opportunity." It looks like the Tribune is saying we lost our chance and now its time for others to take over the process. Who will those people will be?
Do the citizens of this county realize what we have done? We would have been able to write the proclamation which would establish the management of the monument. This document would protect our heritage, our grazing, hunting, and most of all our water. (Read Jeffrey O. Durrant's opinion piece on water in the Nov. 5 Emery County Progress for an excellent discussion of the potential effect of any management plan on water rights). The proclamation determines how the monument will be managed during its existence. No president has ever changed the proclamation on another president's monument. Several monuments got bigger but the management emphasis was never changed. Even if we can get things back on track it is questionable whether we can ever have the control we had before.
If the monument proposal had gone through it would have established a precedent for future presidents if they want to establish any new monuments. Future presidents would have been obligated to go through the very public process we were going through. This not only would have been good for us, but it would have provided a way for other rural counties to develop their own processes.
Emery County would have had permanent representation on the monument advisory council. We would have been part of the planning for, and management of the monument. We have lost that opportunity.
It is ironic that the biggest concern from the opposition was access and roads. The BLM will be putting out their access management plan after the first of the year. This was going to happen whether the monument was established or not. How many people think the results of this election will increase the access on the San Rafael?
The fallback protection for access is the county's RS 2477 assertion. The governor has a statewide initiative going on with the BLM to protect these rights. One of the complaints by the opposition was they wanted these decisions to be made locally, not by "outsiders." One of the driving forces for us to be proactive was that the public lands council wanted to avoid another Grand Staircase Escalante Monument.
The full page ad from SUWA probably provided the death knell for the monument. SUWA did not say in their ad that they supported the monument proposal, they supported a monument that supported their way of thinking. I think they have a better chance of getting what they want now that the monument process was defeated.
Most of all I was saddened by what I consider as attacks made on the individual county commissioners and members of the public lands council as well as the governor, and the president. We have always prided ourselves on our ability to get along. These people put in many hours in our behalf, even if we don't agree with their proposals.
I am not sure what we should do for our next step but perhaps our best chance is to see if we can get the original process back on track. I am sure that whatever the process is we don't want it led by outsiders and special interests. I'd rather see it led by the people duly elected by the citizens of Emery County.