Tension and brusque comments about public lands designations marked the atmosphere at a Grand County Council workshop meeting on Friday, May 16.
In the meeting, a majority of the Grand County Council articulated its support for what is known as “Alternative No. 1” of three public-lands maps being considered for inclusion in a regional land planning initiative. Among the three possible mapped plans, Alternative No. 1 would provide the greatest area of county land for possible future extractive resource development, and would not provide any new wilderness or recreation areas.
“I hate to be blunt, but there is an element out there that wants to halt all resource development. I am not going to support any more wilderness,” council member Jim Nyland said. “I support, in its entirety, Alternative No. 1.”
Alternative No. 1, was the first of three alternative land-use maps drawn up by a Grand County Council subcommittee, as part of the county’s participation in congressman Rob Bishop’s Utah Public Lands Initiative.
The expressed purpose of the workshop was to discuss the alternatives in light of recent public input.
Five of the seven members appeared to have made up their minds at the outset of the meeting. Nyland was joined by fellow council members Pat Holyoak, Gene Ciarus, Ken Ballantyne, and Rory Paxman in support of alternative No. 1.
“I will not support any more wilderness. Recreation and industry can survive together,” Ciarus said.
Council member Elizabeth Tubbs, was a dissenting voice, and she said she couldn’t yet support any of the maps as they were.
“There is something wrong with this process when there are three plans that don’t encompass what a lot of the people in this community want,” Tubbs said. “We are being rushed in this process and I am uncomfortable with it. The decisions we are being asked to make are permanent.”
Tubbs also expressed concern over the proposed Sego Canyon road corridor through the Book Cliffs, and the exclusion of the Antiquities Act.
“These issues are way too big and divisive,” she said. “We have certain thinking processes on this council – and I know how it’s going to go. We should put this up for referendum.”
The Grand County Council has been working on the land use maps as part of a locally driven process to determine how federal lands might best be managed. Bishop had asked that the five involved counties submit their recommendations so that he can bring them up as a bill before the House of Representatives.
“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.”
The county held two public comment periods in recent months and a town meeting to collect input from the various stakeholders. During the first comment period, the county received close to 200 letters, 90% of which favored greater protection of the public lands.
Approximately 350 people attended a public meeting in April with 47 speakers addressing the council. The sentiment among speakers was more equally divided between offering greater protection, and allowing more resource extraction, but more still favored greater protection.
During the most recent comment period, the county received over 300 letters. According to council chair Lynn Jackson, the sentiment was equally divided.
Referring to the months-long, contentious public process, Paxman, said, “nobody wants to work together, so I’m going to vote for No. 1”
Ashley Korenblat, managing director for Public Lands Solutions attended the workshop meeting and said she wants to see people to work together. She said that “we need to get past philosophy and rhetoric, and look at maps acre by acre to determine which uses are compatible together, and which are not.”
She advocated a process of companion designation, whereby management is based on the experience desired by the various stakeholders. Experiences that are compatible with one another are grouped together.
“Then we can come up for something that will provide for all,” she said.
County council chair Lynn Jackson, said there were a lot of comments from citizens who wanted to see some areas in the La Sal Mountains designated for wilderness and watershed protection.
Support was lukewarm for protections for the county’s watershed, garnering, what Jackson referred to as, “2 ½ votes” from council members. Ciarus said he had cabin in Willow Basin, and he wanted to know whether or not any protective legislation would affect him and his neighbors. In the end, the council agreed to study the issue.
Jackson brought the discussion around to wilderness in the La Sal Mountains.
“Would anyone support that?” he asked.
“Why? What’s the purpose,” Nyland said. “This is just another example, a certain element that just wants more,” referring to those who have advocated for further protections in the forest areas.
“Our job is to work with the citizens of this community,” Tubbs responded.
Jackson said that any proposal with this lowest level of wilderness designation stood little chance of getting anywhere on the federal level.
Some of the wilderness acreage in Alternative No. 1 had already been reduced, since it was pointed out that the map had included two areas with popular trails in them. A portion of the Porcupine Rim Trail, and a jeep trail that connects Hidden Valley with the Moab Rim had mistakenly been shown to be located in proposed wilderness areas.
No other members expressed support for wilderness in the La Sal Mountains.
The inclusion of National Recreation Areas (NRA) also proved to be troublesome for the council. NRA’s manage certain areas for compatible types of recreational uses. Existing mineral leases would be honored, but no more would be issued. Areas suggested for NRA designation include the popular Klondike Bluffs and Hidden Canyon areas.
“Let’s get the federal government out of here; they control NRA’s,” Holyoak said.
Jackson, seeming exasperated, reiterated his belief that if their recommendation didn’t include an NRA, that it was unlikely to be a viable bill in congress.
“I’m stunned, I don’t know what to say,” he said. “If we don’t include an NRA, we might as well take a vote and go home.”
Korenblat said that NRA designations are crucial to protecting visitor experiences. She also pointed out that the county can write the language that specifies how an NRA is managed.
Baird said that not to include NRA’s was basically disregarding 70% of the town’s economy.
“Oil and gas is currently responsible for 2%,” he said. “Fidelity has seven full time employees in Moab to manage about a dozen producing wells. When they drill, there are about 10 guys on the job for two months. Then they move on to the next job.
Before adjourning, the council decided that, prior to a final vote on the three alternatives, it would hold one additional workshop on Friday, May 30 at 9:00 a.m. in the county council chambers.
“There is something wrong with this process when there are three plans that don’t encompass what a lot of the people in this community want.”
“I will not support any more wilderness. Recreation and industry can survive together.”
Tense county workshop reflects divisiveness of public lands issues