Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee, center, addresses a question during a Sept. 17 public forum on the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition. The Grand County Council has since received 209 letters that urge it not to join the coalition; 25 letter writers are in favor of the idea. [Photo by Eric Trenbeath / Moab Sun News]

A large majority of public comments received by the Grand County Council expressed opposition to the county signing an interlocal agreement to join the so-called Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC). Of the 234 letters received by the Oct. 1 deadline, 209 were opposed to the county joining the coalition, and 25 were in favor.

Grand County Council vice-chair Elizabeth Tubbs said that though she hasn’t had time to read them all, “the numbers of letters pro and con don’t necessarily tell the story.”

“What I take into consideration more than numbers, are the questions and concerns that are raised and if they are valid and based on a pertinent facts,” Tubbs said. “It so happens that some of the concerns raised by some of our citizens are also my concerns and I have expressed them publicly.”

The SCIC is a proposed partnership between Grand, San Juan, Uintah, Duchesne, Daggett, Carbon and Emery counties for the expressed purpose of promoting resource development, and to “identify and secure funding for ownership and control of projects, infrastructure, facilities, and improvements.” Grand is currently the only county that hasn’t signed the agreement.

Proponents say the coalition will give the counties of southeastern Utah greater clout when competing for funds with the Wasatch Front, while enabling it to take on larger projects they couldn’t handle on their own.

Detractors believe that the coalition will bind Grand County to projects they might not want to be involved in and for which Grand County taxpayers may be held liable.

Comments against joining the coalition revolved around concerns that were raised during a Sept. 17 public forum. Subjects included a possible loss of local power, the vagueness of the contract language, the potential loss of Community Impact Board (CIB) funds, and ultimately, how the SCIC would benefit Grand County.

“The fact that our council will go against the advice of the county attorney, hired by the council to give them legal advice is in its own rights a red flag,” resident Andrew Riley said. “Entering into a flawed agreement will cost us the taxpayer time and money down the road, take away needed resources from the tax base and prevent us from receiving ClB monies for the foreseeable future.”

Letters in favor were mostly very brief, with many simply stating that they supported the county’s participation in the coalition. But Ruth Westwood, said that she was in favor of joining because there “is strength in numbers.”

“We are a very small county in population and the addition of these other six counties can only help ensure that our voice is heard on matters that affect all of the counties,” she said. “If we do not join the coalition, we do not have a voice, a vote and cannot participate in infrastructure plans that affect all of us.”

Russell Call, in his support of the coalition, stated that many of those opposed are simply against any kind of growth.

“And since the majority of these liberal thinkers have small or no families, part-time jobs, and rely on government assistance in all its forms, they have time on their hands to promote this radical agenda,” he said. “From what I have seen, the majority of those opposed to growth and industry…file for unemployment…get food stamps…and have never done a whole lot to improve their situation because this type of lifestyle is acceptable to them.”

Jayne Dillon May, co-owner of the Synergy Company, said that she employs 75 full-time, year-round local employees, and that she has “deep concern” over the county’s participation in the SCIC.

In her letter to the council, she outlined her concerns about the potential loss of CIB funding.

“Our CIB money has helped build the Grand Center, the new hospital, the Aquatic Center, the library,

and other infrastructure from which Grand County taxpayers benefit,” she said. “The coalition will be using CIB monies to build infrastructure to help the extractive industries move their products. Why is CIB money going to benefit the very industry whose impacts it is designed to offset?”

In her letter, resident Sarah Stock said that, “using public money for the profit of big corporations is corporate welfare.”

“They offer us a carrot on the stick: we could charge a small fee on the trucks traveling the Book Cliffs highway to get a small percentage back for our county,” she said. “In other words, they want to take CIB money that would otherwise come straight to us, invest it again in oil and gas, and then in 25 or 30 years, if there’s a profit, they’ll give us a small percentage.”

Trevor Knutson said that he commends the council on its efforts to join the coalition and keep public lands open to industry, and said that he was speaking for those who don’t write letters.

“We do want to join the coalition and we do want a diversified economy,” he said. “We need oil and gas, potash, and the film industries. You have support, please do what is right.”

Former Moab City Mayor Karla Hancock urged the council not to join the coalition, or at the very least, to put it up for a vote by referendum.

“Having been a Moab resident for over 40 years and having served as the Moab City mayor for four of those years, I feel like I have a pretty good take on the sentiments shared by the several factions in our community, both the old-timers, and the people that most of you consider newcomers, many of whom have been here for twenty years or more,” she said. “I believe you are grossly mistaken when you insist that a “small minority” of residents objects to such a move. It is actually a very vocal minority that is supporting you in this decision.”

Tubbs said that, “We (the county council) are frequently told that we have an obligation to consider the opinions of the majority of the citizens as expressed in letters or comments made in meetings.”

“While I agree with the concept in principle … I am not at all convinced that 209 letters represent the majority of our citizens,” Tubbs said. “Council members don’t, and should not, necessarily vote along with what has been expressed by the most letter writers. That is not to say that we should not consider the questions and concerns raised in public comments, on all sides of an issue.”

Hancock added that while she was mayor, she attended meetings of the Utah Association of Governments and felt that it was, “an extremely useful organization for Moab and Grand County to participate in.”

“I definitely do not have that kind of confidence in this Seven-County Infrastructure Coalition,” she said.

Council says submitted letters don’t “tell the (whole) story”

Council members don’t, and should not, necessarily vote along with what has been expressed by the most letter writers. That is not to say that we should not consider the questions and concerns raised in public comments, on all sides of an issue.