Joe Kingsley (standing left) asks Rep. John Curtis (standing right) to support changes to transit that could impact travel to Moab and Grand County. [Photo by Murice D. Miller / Moab Sun News]

Touting two public lands bills that have now been signed into law, Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) traveled to Moab on Wednesday, March 20, and hosted a town hall meeting at Star Hall.

About 60 people from the Moab community attended the town hall, from Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus seated near the front, to former county council member Lynn Jackson in the very back row, to Arches National Park Superintendent Kate Cannon and public transit advocate Michael Liss sitting near the middle.

Curtis said he was willing to answer any questions from anyone in the audience, but many people offered only comments to Rep. Curtis, either in support of work he has done, or against certain issues or causes. One person in attendance became visibly angry as he spoke and insisted that Curtis stop supporting the U.S.’s involvement in the war in Yemen, where children are starving to death. (However, a press release posted on Rep. Curtis’s website from November 2018 titled “Rep. Curtis issues strong rebuke against horrific war in Yemen,” contains video footage of Rep. Curtis asking his colleagues in the House to end their support of the war.)

Several people spoke in support of the passage of the public lands bills.


The Emery County Public Land Management Act is one of Curtis’s two bills that was passed and signed into law by President Donald J. Trump as part of a larger public lands package, the Natural Resources Management Act, on March 12. The legislation protects public lands in Emery County, specifically Labyrinth Canyon, which drew scrutiny and comments from the Moab community last year because the bill does not protect the side of the canyon across the Green River in Grand County.

Curtis said a year was spent working with various public lands stakeholders on developing the Emery County Public Land Management Act.

“Normally these groups don’t agree,” Curtis said. “Ranchers and environmentalists frequently have very different opinions about what we do with public lands, and it’s not just those two groups, there’s extraction, there’s recreation, there’s a gazillion groups that feel like stakeholders in what we do with public lands.”

Curtis said he “really want(s) to compliment the leaders of Emery County” for setting a foundation to allow progress to be made on the bill. Their work “dissipated the angst and the animosity that you usually find in public lands bills and set a foundation to allow us to work and advance this bill,” he said.

“Along the way, all these stakeholders also worked with that same cooperative spirit,” he said. “We identified what’s called a winner-take-all attitude in public lands. A lot of times, stakeholders will address public lands with, ‘Unless we get everything we want, nobody gets anything.’ That’s a winner-take-all philosophy. We asked people to check that at the door with this.”

Curtis said “the bill morphed, it changed, it became a better and better bill everyday.”

Some people are still unhappy with the bill, but Curtis said many people are acknowledging that this bill is better than the alternative — no protection.

“It’s a big deal for Emery County and for this entire region,” he said. “Your elected officials have frequently mentioned duplicating a process like that and solving some of these difficult public land issues here in Grand County, and my staff is ready to jump in and dedicate that same amount of time.”

Local Tony Mancuso told Curtis that his vote hinges on further protecting public lands and Labyrinth Canyon, and said his attendance at the town hall was for the Emery County bill and the canyon.


Also speaking at the town hall was Moab resident and county transit committee member Joe Kingsley.

“I would like to request that if you ever have a chance to work on the Amtrak change from going long distance to more regional service, we would like to ask for your support in that change in policy,” Kingsley said. “One of the things we’re trying to do here in Moab is get Amtrak to go from Salt Lake, through Provo, through Price, to Moab, so that we can get traffic off U.S. 6 and the highways, and get people that are here to enjoy rather than bring vehicles,” he said.

A round of applause erupted in the hall as Kingsley concluded his comments.

“I’m a big fan of transit,” Curtis said, who said he spent a lot of political capital on a transit system in Provo. Curtis was once the mayor of Provo. “Because I know that my community in Provo will not get from where they are today to where they want to be without a transit component, and I think that could be said for your community as well.”

“It’s expensive,” he continued. “It takes a lot of planning, but I certainly would love to be part of that process with you, and do what I can on my side because it’s a game-changer.”


One man in the audience began by thanking Curtis for coming to Moab before asking about paid family maternal leave.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law allowing eligible employees across the U.S. to take maternity leave for the birth and care of newborns, but it’s unpaid leave.

“You represent the youngest congressional district, which is pretty exciting. A lot of us folk are trying to start families and will be starting families, and a big hurdle is no paid family leave or no maternal leave and I was wondering if you’re doing anything to change that,” the man said.

“I love to tell my colleagues back in Washington that we are the youngest; our average age in this district is 26 years young. It’s the youngest in the entire country,” Curtis acknowledged.

“Family leave is starting to be a discussion,” he said, adding that he himself is a father of six, but said he needs to “get his arms” around understanding paid family leave and how such a program would be funded.

“It doesn’t take much understanding to know that it could wipe out a small business,” he said. “I just think we just have to ask questions like that and think through the answers to that.”

Community members speak on public lands, transit and paid family leave

“Along the way, all these stakeholders also worked with that same cooperative spirit.”