Hundreds of residents pack the Grand Center on Wednesday, April 23, to weigh in on the map alternatives created by a Grand County Council subcommittee for potential submission to Congressman Rob Bishop. [Photo by Pippa Thomas or Nathan Wynn / Moab Sun News]

More than 300 county residents packed the Grand Center’s meeting hall on Wednesday, April 23, to participate in a public meeting to review and comment on three public-land map alternatives created by a county subcommittee that would designate future possible uses of public lands.

“I think you’re going to hear a balance of perspectives, tonight,” Grand County Council chairman Lynn Jackson said before the comment period began.

What seemed to be lacking from the perspectives voiced, unfortunately, was consensual support for any of the alternatives the subcommittee had created.

“You heard a lot of people say ‘I want more’ and some people say ‘I want less,’ but nobody said any of the three proposals was satisfactory,” county resident Matt Cresswell said.

Forty-seven Grand County residents took their turn at the microphone, expressing their views about wilderness, recreation and the extraction-industry. Unlike the written letters sent to the council during the first public-comment phase this past winter, in which 90 percent of respondents supported land protection, a broader spectrum of viewpoints was expressed.

The majority of speakers—roughly 25—conveyed support for stronger land protections, while about 15 advocated for fewer protections or more opportunities for development. The remaining speakers spoke primarily about balance, supporting both land protection and mineral development.

As the night progressed, the themes of money and jobs, environmental health, and freedom to recreate were often repeated, frequently from opposing viewpoints.

The Bishop Public Lands Initiative process is meant to develop consensus and support among stakeholders through collaboration and compromise.

“Finding common ground begins with a bottom-up process,” the Utah Public Lands Initiative Status Report from November 2013 states. “Bargaining will be required, with all stakeholders holding ‘currency’ in various forms that they must be willing to exchange.”

One of the most often-repeated opinions regarding the alternatives proposed came from advocates for land protection who said that the map with the greatest acreage of designated and protected lands, alternative three, didn’t go far enough.

“I have to say, with all due respect for the sub-committee and acknowledging the great effort you’ve gone to thus far, I can’t support any of the alternatives you’ve presented,” said Pam Hackley, who served on the county planning commission during 2010 through 2013. Hackley was particularly concerned about the lack of designations on Forest Service (FS) land in the county’s watershed.

In opening comments, Jackson recognized the absence of FS protections and said “adding FS land would add a whole array of complexities we simply weren’t comfortable dealing with at this time.”

“I think that completely shows why we need to step back and broaden and deepen our review of this process,” Hackley said. “Bring it through the planning commission process, through a process that we already have in place and that is very robust and would give us a more deliberative time frame to address all of these issues.”

The plan for the subcommittee had been to vote on a map alternative to send to Congressman Bishop at their next council meeting on Tuesday, May 6.

“My best guess is that we’ll create some type of amalgamation of the three [proposed alternatives] and that is what we’ll send to Congressman Bishop,” Jackson said.

However, that vote has recently been postponed, possibly to June, and the council has scheduled a workshop for May 16 at 9 a.m., to specifically discuss and consider the map recommendations.

Jackson has said on numerous occasions that the map they send is simply a recommendation to the Congressman.

“We can’t make decisions here,” Jackson said. “All we can do is make these recommendations. Ultimately the recommendations that are decided upon are up to Congress and what will be passed in Congress in both houses and what the president will sign.”

However, the Bishop process is intended to be bottom-up.

“Rob [Bishop] is, and Congressman Chaffetz and Congressman Stewart are, facilitators, not directors of what ultimately the counties decide are their priorities,” said Melissa Subbotin, Congressman Bishop’s communications director.

“You do have to balance the interests of many different entities representing many different groups across the spectrum so that is a big challenge,” Subbotin said. “We’re still a long way out in the process, but the system is intentionally designed to move slow and thoughtfully and intentionally, so that we aren’t just rushing into it.”

Regardless of how much time the county takes, if broad support cannot be achieved, the viability of the bill becomes questionable.

“If what’s produced by Grand County doesn’t even garner a large amount of support from our county, it’s hard to imagine how it would garner a viable amount of support from the nation,” Ashley Korenblat said.

Korenblat, the owner of Western Spirit Cycling, has been involved in the Bishop Public Land Initiative from the beginning as a representative of both the International Mountain Biking Association and of the Outdoor Industry Association.

Commonly expressed issues in the proposals for the advocates of greater protections are the lack of FS designations, prohibition on any future federal use of the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments in Grand County, and the Sego Canyon transportation corridor.

“Without the Antiquities Act, we probably wouldn’t have our national parks, and this town would be deader than a door nail,” said Mike Duncan, chairman of the Grand County Planning Commission.

“The problem [with Sego Canyon] is the road has become a miniature Keystone Pipeline because it’s an investment in dirty energy,” Korenblat said “Not only will it compromise the recreation economy in Grand County, but it will add to our dirty-energy dependence.”

Many people advocating for more oil and gas development expressed deep desires for economic expansion beyond the tourism industry.

“We have to allow for some economic development, whether that is a road we can charge a toll on or some drilling, because I see the poverty in this county,” said Mary Urban, an educator in the Grand County School District.

“I’m quite disappointed,” said Curtis Wells, who works in the energy industry. “We’ve got a million acres [of protected designations] on the table and we’re asking for one little measly highway. And there’s no compromise. That way [Sego Canyon] is an opportunity. That’s a means to improve your quality of life.”

The Grand County Council has been taking steps to explore the feasibility of the Sego Canyon transportation corridor. On Tuesday. April 15, the council voted unanimously to approve a letter to the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) asking to join its ongoing study of the Uintah Basin.

Views vary widely on wilderness, recreation, extraction; comment period extended until May 7

“If what’s produced by Grand County doesn’t even garner a large amount of support from our county, it’s hard to imagine how it would garner a viable amount of support from the nation.”

The deadline for written citizen comments on the public lands alternatives is extended to Wednesday, May 7th at 5 p.m. (No email comments will be accepted) Send comments to:

Grand County

Attention: Public Lands

125 E. Center St.

Moab, UT 84532