By the time the public comment period on Republican Rep. Rob Bishop’s eastern Utah public lands bill closed Jan. 30, the county council had received about 170 letters.
A three-member council committee will now try to shape those comments into a range of recommended public land use designations for Bishop’s consideration.
At some point in March, local residents will have a chance to comment on the committee’s recommendations, according to a news release from the county council. The council plans to host a public meeting on the lands initiative at the Grand Center, although no firm date had been set as of press time.
Grand County Council chairman Lynn Jackson originally hoped to hold the meeting in February. But no one had submitted comments to the council just days before the original public comment period was scheduled to end Jan. 17, so Jackson later agreed to extend both dates.
The comments that came in during the extended time frame will give the committee a wide range of viewpoints and issues to consider.
A vast majority of letter writers urged the council to push Bishop’s office for greater congressional protections that would limit future development of the county’s public lands.
“The most important thing that I wish to get across to you is that we need WILDERNESS in Grand County,” Moab resident Jane Butter wrote. “WILDERNESS, WILDERNESS, WILDERNESS. This area is too special to give up to short-sighted economic development.”
Others asked the council to develop recommendations that would release lands to multiple-use management and allow for greater development of oil, gas and potash.
“I believe it’s possible to allow responsible development of Grand County’s natural resources without significant harm to the environment or the tourism industry,” Moab resident Dennis Lightfoot wrote. “This would also create year-round employment, higher paying jobs and a stable tax base.”
Still others favored a balanced approach that seeks to conserve some areas, while allowing multiple uses elsewhere.
Peter Kaufman wrote that protection of pristine lands should be a priority. At the same time, however, Kaufman urged the council to reject possible restrictions on existing four-wheel drive routes.
Jackson, who sits on the three-member public lands committee, said county officials will strive to come up with recommendations that satisfy the public as a whole.
“We’ll try to give everyone as much of the pie as we can,” he said this week.
According to Jackson, the committee’s recommended alternatives will likely fall into three categories: Some will include lots of proposed wilderness, others will include very little wilderness and the third category will be somewhere in between.
Once the committee is ready to present those recommendations to the public, the county plans to set a firm date for the meeting at the Grand Center.
In order to keep things on an even keel, Jackson said a professional facilitator who has no personal stake in the public lands initiative will host the event.
“It just seemed like it would be better to get an objective third party to listen,” he said.
After the meeting, the public will have additional opportunities to comment on the committee’s recommendations, as well as any possible actions that the council may take, Jackson said. But he emphasized that the county council will not have the final say in the shape that Bishop’s proposed bill may take.
“He’s not bound to do what we’re suggesting,” he said.
Information about Bishop’s public lands initiative, along with a link to public comments on the proposal, is available on the county’s website at www.grandcountyutah.net.