Not so fast, Deseret News.
A majority of Grand County Council members have not necessarily lined up in support of the eastern Utah Public Lands Initiative process, as the Salt Lake City newspaper reported last week.
Grand County Council chair Elizabeth Tubbs said she was caught off guard when she received a news release last week which stated that the council would be holding a joint press conference with six other counties to endorse the process.
The release, which was issued by Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee, claims that officials in the seven counties remain interested in working with Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, the two Republican congressmen who are spearheading the initiative.
“We, the duly elected officials, look forward to continuing our work on the PLI in hopes of achieving consensus and compromise among the various stakeholders,” it says. “We believe the future of effective public lands management lies in collaboration and cooperation. We urge our Congressional leaders to continue the PLI process with those principles in mind.”
The Deseret News subsequently reported that Grand County is on board with the other counties, although it quoted Grand County Council member Lynn Jackson as saying that the council has “some concerns” with the current draft of the initiative.
However, Tubbs said that neither she nor any other council member had a chance to review the document that claims to represent Grand County’s official stance on the process. Although it was broadly supported at one time, that process has come under criticism locally since the congressmen released a draft version of their proposal earlier this year.
“The press release went out with our name on it, and we had never talked about it as a group and voted on it,” Tubbs said during the county council’s meeting on Tuesday, March 15.
Jackson said he spoke with McKee about the idea of voicing Grand County’s support for continued involvement in the process.
“I got a call on a Friday afternoon about some future, to-be-determined press conference with Grand County, and I said, ‘Yeah, we’d probably be interested in that,’” he said.
However, he said that no dates were given, and no time-frames were set up.
“There had never been a mention of a press release,” Jackson said.
Be that as it may, Tubbs said she wishes that Jackson had come to her sooner to keep the council in the loop about his discussions with McKee. Tubbs said she didn’t find out about the news release until the day before the press conference, which was held at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 11.
“I think that’s a real breach – I really feel very strongly about that; about not informing us of the things that were going on,” she told Jackson.
What’s more, she said, officials in other counties ignored her request to hold off on adding Grand County’s name to the press release until the council could formally review it.
Moving forward, Tubbs said she thinks it’s important for the council to go on record somehow to inform the other counties that, “They did some damage – they are in breach of something,” she said.
McKee said he was not aware that Tubbs made a request to remove Grand County’s name from the release. However, when he found out that the council did not have an opportunity to review the document, he said he informed press conference attendees of that fact.
“We did not want to run over anybody … and that’s why I stated right in the meeting that the Grand County Council had not approved it,” he told the Moab Sun News.
McKee said he doubts that any of the participating counties agree 100 percent with the draft proposal’s recommendations.
“This was not about saying, ‘We agree with the draft, lock, stock and barrel,” he said.
But considering that all seven counties have participated in the past, McKee said he doesn’t think there would be too much disagreement among them regarding their involvement in the process.
However, Grand County Council member Chris Baird said he’s reluctant at this point to unequivocally support further county participation in the Public Lands Initiative.
“I’m not ready to go and say, ‘Yes, I’ll be a cheerleader of the process’ yet,” he said.
First off, Baird said he isn’t comfortable with the fact that the news release lumps all seven distinct county proposals into one.
“I haven’t even looked at anybody else’s PLI, other than ours, so I don’t know that I would feel all that confident in … endorsing the whole thing,” he said.
In addition, Baird said he doesn’t know if – or when – Utah’s congressional delegation will respond to the council’s formal concerns about the draft proposal.
Among other things, the draft omits wilderness areas that a majority of council members would like to establish in the eastern Book Cliffs, while creating a Book Cliffs transportation corridor that the same majority opposes. At the same time, it would carve out new wilderness in areas where the council has expressly opposed the designation, including the lower section of the popular Whole Enchilada mountain biking trail, and nearly all of the already-protected Arches National Park.
“This press release could easily make it back to (Washington, D.C.), where they say, ‘Here, look, all the counties signed on in support of the PLI,’” Baird said. “That could easily be misconstrued as support for the draft proposal, and so not knowing how many details of our specific proposal (are) going to make it further into the process, I do feel a little squeamish endorsing the process without hearing back from the delegation.”
Baird said he understands where Jackson is coming from, because the council has been involved in the Public Lands Initiative process for several years.
“(But) the things I spoke of before make me much more hesitant,” he said.
Grand County Council member Jaylyn Hawks said she shares Baird’s concerns.
“I feel, like you, that perhaps we should do something going forward to indicate our dissatisfaction with what just happened,” she said. “I feel that the letter, the way it’s composed, is an implicit endorsement of the draft outcome by seven counties.”
If the press release is intended to be an endorsement that they want to take to Washington, D.C, Hawks said, it should come from each county individually, and not all seven counties as a group.
“The outcome was different in every county, and I feel like the letter is going to be used to give added weight to an outcome that we as a county have no control over,” she said.
Grand County Council member Mary McGann said she believes that the council members need to clarify the fact that the press release is misleading.
“I feel we were not represented, because we did not get an opportunity to vote on it,” McGann said.
Jackson said that as he reads the statement, he doesn’t think it endorses any preferred outcomes.
“It doesn’t say the seven counties are going to endorse whatever comes out of the PLI,” he said. “There’s a lot of work; we’ve talked about this quite a bit – there’s a lot of people and groups and interests nationwide that are going to have influence in this, and probably the worst thing we could do … would be to back out of it, because it’s going to go forward if it’s not killed by the groups that are trying to kill it.”
With the exception of Tubbs’ concerns, he said, the council is making much ado about nothing.
Unapproved news release claims county supports Bishop process
I do think that it’s important for us to go on record in some way, shape or form to say to the other counties that they did some damage – they are in breach of something.