A Salt Lake City mapmaker is putting the final touches on a series of maps that outline potential land management alternatives, and Grand County Council chairman Lynn Jackson is hopeful that the documents will be released in the coming days.
Copies of the maps will be posted at the Grand County Courthouse ahead of a planned April 23 public hearing on Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop’s public lands initiative; the council will also post a link to online versions of the documents on the county’s website at www.grandcountyutah.net.
Jackson told The Times-Independent earlier this year that the maps will outline a range of draft recommendations for further consideration.
He said they will likely run the gamut from one that calls on Congress to designate “lots and lots” of wilderness in Grand County, to one that endorses “not so much” wilderness. Another proposal would fall somewhere in between the two designations, he said Feb. 11.
Jackson and study committee members James Nyland and Rory Paxman previously reached out to county residents for their feedback on the recommendations, and they ultimately received about 170 responses, including some duplicates and chain letters.
A vast majority of letter writers urged the council to push for greater protections of Grand County’s federal lands and to limit development in or around some of the country’s most unique landscapes.
“... Put me down for a NO to allowing any drilling or mining in Grand County,” Moab resident Wendy Hoff wrote. “It only means truck traffic, increased crime from the population influx, temporary workers who’s (sic) wealth doesn’t stay here, dirty wastewater, contaminated drinking water, noise, destruction of the plants and animals, and just plain ugliness that deters tourists.”
A smaller number of respondents cautioned that wilderness designations would limit access to all but the select few, while hampering responsible development that benefits the economy.
“Public lands are meant for all, and for the greater good,” Spanish Valley resident Julia Bates wrote. “They are not supposed to be set aside for a single user. Oil and gas development, as well as potash and uranium mining, can cooperate in conjunction with other uses, and will not exclude other users, as Wilderness would.”
A group of conservationists encouraged the council last month to take the majority of letter writers’ concerns to heart.
Bob O’Brien and others analyzed more than 100 letters, and they found that most respondents strongly opposed further industrial impacts to the county’s public lands, according to a presentation they made to the council on March 18.
Deb Walter told the council that letter writers voiced agonizing concerns about development of oil and gas wells and hydraulic fracturing techniques. Likewise, most respondents viewed potash mining and tar sands extraction as huge threats to the county’s public lands, as well as its tourist industry, she said.
Jackson told The Times-Independent in February that he didn’t see quite the same ratio of support for wilderness.
He estimated that about 130 of the 170 comments – including some duplicates and chain responses – were pro-wilderness, versus the 90 percent figure the conservationists cited in their March 18 presentation to the council.
Based on the overall variety of responses that the county received, Jackson has said it’s unlikely that everyone will be satisfied by any final recommendations that the council comes up with.
“Not everybody’s going to get everything they’d like to see,” he said Feb. 11.
The council will try to give everyone as much of the pie as it can, he said.
But even then, there is no guarantee that the county will have a final say in the shape that Bishop’s proposed lands bill may take.
Bishop is not bound to follow the county’s suggestions, he said, noting that Congress is another wild card.
Judging by the U.S. House of Representatives’ recent track record on similar bills like the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act, the legislative process could take years.
Nevada’s bipartisan congressional delegation introduced that bill in 2011, following two years of groundwork and public involvement at the local level. Despite broad support for that bill, however, Congress has not yet passed it.
In the case of the Bishop lands initiative, Jackson has said that the congressman hopes to introduce a bill in the U.S. House some time this year.
That schedule doesn’t leave the council much time to come up with a final set of recommendations, but county residents will still have more opportunities to offer their feedback on public lands designations.
Anyone who would like to comment on the committee’s draft recommendations is encouraged to attend an April 23 public hearing at the Grand Center, 182 North 500 West. The doors are scheduled to open at 6 p.m. that afternoon, and the hearing is expected to run from 7 to 9 p.m.