Council votes 6-1 to join controversial Seven County Infrastucture Coalition
by Molly Marcello
Contributing Writer
Oct 23, 2014 | 5112 views | 0 0 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
After months of contentious public debate, the Grand County Council voted 6-1 on Oct. 21 to join the controversial Seven County Infrastructure Coalition. Later in the meeting, the council voted to appoint council chairman Lynn Jackson as its representative to the coalition.

The vote came after 18 people spoke during the “citizens to be heard” portion of the meeting. Fourteen of those speakers voiced opposition to joining the coalition.

The council chambers were packed to overflowing in anticipation of the vote, with people sitting on the floor and spilling out shoulder-to-shoulder in the hallway corridor. Several officers from the Grand County Sheriff’s Department were stationed throughout the building to provide help with crowd control if necessary, although no problems arose.

In the past several weeks, the council received 234 total letters from the public regarding the Seven County Coalition — 209 letters opposed and 25 in support.

During Tuesday’s meeting, several citizens asked the council to table any vote on the matter, citing concerns about whether joining the coalition would limit the county’s power to stop coalition projects and activities that might occur within Grand County boundaries.

Council member Elizabeth Tubbs, the lone vote against joining the coalition, said that while she is not against “joining forces” with the other counties, she is “not in favor of creating a government entity to do that.”

Tubbs suggested the council should take the issue to a referendum or a public vote — “something that tells me where people stand on the issue,” she said.

As the council discussion concluded on Tuesday, Jackson told the crowd that Grand County “needs a seat at this table.”

“This coalition would take action whether we are part of it or not,” Jackson said. “If we are a member of this coalition we can take part in these discussions. We can help direct them instead of wondering what they’re up to.”

“Let the people vote,” Grand County resident Emily Stock called out from the audience as Jackson called for the council’s vote.

Jackson responded: “The people voted when the seven of us were elected up here.”

The council’s decision to join the coalition drew immediate boos and shouts from many in the audience, creating enough noise that Tubbs had to make sure Jackson had heard and recorded her vote in opposition.

During the comments from citizens on Tuesday, Moab resident Kate Anderson told the council that most residents opposed Grand’s participation in the coalition.

“People overwhelmingly do not want you to join this coalition,” Anderson said. “You’re elected to represent the people; joining would be a flagrant disregard of the democratic process.”

Many speakers expressed concerns that the coalition is a thinly veiled attempt to lay the groundwork and infrastructure for oil, gas and mineral development, effectively subsidizing the oil and gas Industry.

County council candidate Chris Baird warned that because of Grand Junction’s investment in the oil and gas industry, Mesa County faced decades of economic hardship after oil prices fell in the early 1980s.

“There’s a reason why government isn’t supposed to go into business for itself. If oil and tar sands is a viable business, let them prove it,” Baird said.

Mary McGann, another candidate for county council, echoed Baird’s sentiment, expressing concern that the government might fund certain projects like a railroad for the oil and gas Industry.

“If private industry is not doing it, there’s a reason,” McGann said. “If they needed it, they would have built it.”

Jackson said the concept of the coalition “is not to subsidize the hydrocarbon industry.” By joining the coalition, he said, Grand County could influence other counties to build other industries, like recreation, and not just oil and gas.

“We could help them towards strategic thinking outside of the hydrocarbon industry,” Jackson said.

Moab resident Christina Sloan asked the council to table its decision because of the contract’s vague language. Sloan, who is an attorney, took issue with the current voting agreement, which she said would allow a 42 percent majority, or only three votes. 

Council member Ken Ballantine, while expressing his support for joining the SCIC, said he “would like to change the votes from a three to a majority vote.”

Unlike Sloan however, Ballantine said he believes that changing the voting agreement “can be done from within.”

Those citizens who spoke in favor of joining the coalition expressed the need for gaining a “seat at the table.”

“We urge you to join the coalition where there is strength in numbers,” Merrie Knutson said, adding, “It’s inconceivable that six counties with their elected commissioners are all the stupid ones except the people in Grand County. We urge you to hear the voices of reason and logic and not fear or obstruction.”

Dwight Johnston expressed a similar opinion.

“You would be insane not to have a seat at this table because that is where decisions are going to be made,” Johnston said.

Scott Anderson, owner of Triassic Industries, which he said has business dealings in the extractive, logging and quarry industries, called the coalition “a dangerous partnership.”

“Our strength is that we don’t need them, they need us,” he said.

Anderson argued for focusing on Grand County and the “things that are going to benefit a broader spectrum of people in this town.”

Like many residents who voice opposition, Greg Kennedy argued that by joining the coalition, Grand County is giving up its authority.

“Anything that Grand County opposes really won’t get stopped,”Kennedy said. “Their economies depend on extraction, while ours don’t necessarily. You’re writing a blank check and you don’t even know who you’re handing it to.”

Jackson pointed out that Grand County has no authority on federal or state lands. He noted that 94 percent of Grand County is federal or state lands, and that industries operating on those public lands deal with the Bureau of Land Management or the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, not the county.

“You can’t give away authority that you don’t have,” Jackson said.

Jackson expressed confidence that the members of the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition “are not people who are going to go willy-nilly about building projects,” adding that significant research will take place before any projects go forward. The coalition, he said, “is just learning how to start walking. There’s going to be months before they start doing any projects.”

But in her final comments, Tubbs said that joining the coalition before such projects are made known is similar to “putting the cart before the horse.”

Jackson also responded to Moab resident Bill Love’s concern that the coalition will take loans from the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board, whose money comes from mineral lease royalties. Jackson said there “are an array of [funding] sources” like state grants and loans.

He also said the coalition “is absolutely forbidden from creating debt for any of the member counties,” and that Grand County may withdraw from the coalition at any time.

Noting the deep divisions that were evident between many citizens present at the meeting and members of the county council, Tubbs called for collaboration, regardless of the outcome.

“We’re a diverse community and we need to consider all of us,” she said. “We need to stop sending these daggers at each other and start figuring out how we can make it work.”

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