After working with our neighboring counties for the past 20 months as a councilman, I find this perception hard to comprehend. Certainly, Grand County is seen as a bit quirky, but I can’t imagine a situation where they would force something on us that we did not want. We’d have to be some pretty bad neighbors for them to even consider such a scenario.
The issue of making certain this coalition could not create financial obligations for us against our will seems a bit more valid as a concern to me, and hopefully, the dialogue and review by citizens has clearly demonstrated that language in the agreement creating this coalition is very clear in this regard; the coalition cannot create financial obligations for any of the member counties without approval of that county’s legislative body.
Additionally, the idea that our county would lose or grant some level of authority for large infrastructure projects in eastern Utah to this Coalition is based on the erroneous assumption that we have any authority over these types of projects. Land ownership is the ultimate authority. In our area, the primary landowners are the federal and state governments, owning 90 percent of the land in Grand County. Our state laws clearly tell us we have no authority over these lands. If any type of private or public entity wants to build a project in our area they simply require permits from federal and state landowners. There is no requirement for the project to be approved by a county government. They must simply comply with our land-use and planning and zoning regulations. If they comply, our county has no authority to deny that project.
As I’ve worked with our county neighbors in developing this coalition concept I’ve seen nothing but cooperation and the potential for positive outcomes from its creation. It would provide us an ability to have greater access to funding through the strength of the coalition to build infrastructure for our county and for surrounding neighbors’ communities. I see an enhanced ability for eastern Utah to deal with the power structure on the Wasatch front, giving us more leverage to assure eastern rural Utah is treated fairly. I see the enhanced ability to create jobs and economic diversification for our region, all working together for the common good. I see Grand County using our coalition membership to help develop projects that could enhance our tourism industry, such as a passenger rail terminal at the Atlas site once work is completed on the tailings removal.
I think once our residents more fully understand the purpose and details of the coalition, they will see it as a positive thing and a way to solidify good working relationships and cooperation with our neighboring counties, rather than some insidious plot to overrun us. They will see that under the concepts of this coalition, our counties can build infrastructure improvements anywhere in the seven eastern county area and actually share in profits from such enterprise. They will see we’re not granting any authority to the coalition that we do not have. They will see it's far better to work with our neighbors to create jobs and economic diversity, than to send a message that Grand County is too pure and different to work with them.
In my opinion we’re all in this together in rural eastern Utah. Contrary to the opinions of some, we are not so different than our neighbors. We have two primary economic resources in common in eastern Utah: recreation and energy. They may occur in varying degrees in each county, but these are the resources we have. We’re collectively too far off the beaten path and too far from urban centers to develop other types of economic drivers. We’ve tried and failed.
I will vote for us all working together cooperatively to enhance development of these resources where appropriate, and collectively raise the future economic fortunes of our region. Trying to move Grand County into the future with an isolationist attitude and a one-industry economy appears to me to be a dangerous route to take.
Lynn Jackson is currently chairman of the Grand County Council, but these comments and views are his own, and do not reflect a formal county council position.