Curtis Wells’ rambling and aggrieved column appearing in The View argues that mineral lease money from mining in Grand County is indispensable to the economic future of this county (“Economic reality,” Sept. 17-23, 2015 Moab Sun News).
Nonsense! All anyone has to do is look at congested traffic on Main Street and transient room tax revenue that has risen five-fold since 2003 to prove it. It appears that what Mr. Wells and his ilk really want is the town of 60 years ago, in an economic boom through uranium mining, where folks could still do what they wanted anywhere on the land and nobody cared. Sheer numbers of people everywhere today will tell you that those days are gone forever. Like a sign in Silverton said, “Found paradise? Kiss it goodbye.”
Mineral lease monies in this county are only a very small part of the overall budget. In a typical recent year, local government budgets totaled about $41 million, compared to $2 million from mineral lease monies. Sure, it’s nice; it pays for some things we as taxpayers may elect not to fund if someone else can’t pay for it. But it’s hardly critical. Most communities in the country have no mineral lease income at all – they raise taxes and bond for what they need. But we want our cake and eat it too — low taxes and all the amenities.
The mineral lease monies are so variable that they should not be used to fund recurring expenses, but should be put in a fund for special projects. Monies from a portion of the transient room tax could go a long way to providing extra amenities that the county/ city find themselves wanting. And it’s a no-brainer to see that it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to compromise our recreational economy. Tourism is the one given in this community that will keep on growing as long as we don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg. There are many locally owned businesses that depend on tourism for their survival. These people live and pay taxes here, and are a vital part of the community. Want a donation for your local school, church or charity event? Do you turn to the local business owners that you know, or the oil and gas executive who lives in Houston?
Wells says he supports both mining and tourism, but if a new oil well or potash discovery were to be found in the middle of an established biking area, which would he support? Take a guess. And, if a big chunk of your family income is from real estate sales to people who come here for recreation, income from tourism, or the beauty of the place, you might want to think about what will happen to that income if your goal is to make this a mining community.
Wells says nature will always reclaim things, and he is right about that, but it may take hundreds (or even thousands) of years. So why take an area known for its beautiful scenery and destroy it for the sake of a few more dollars in someone’s pocket? Do we want to leave a blight on this land for that long, or do we think we can just walk away from our messes and expect someone else to clean them up? The San Juan Mountains and all the old mining claims there are a good example of that, and a hundred-plus years later, we are all still seeing the effects of those old “take the money and run” practices. And it’s interesting that Silverton, a hundred years later, has turned to tourism to keep its community thriving.