Emery County to push forward with lands bill
Emery County is heading back out on their own with their public land use bill. Approximately three years ago, Congressman Rob Bishop asked Emery County to join his public lands initiative. Emery County stalled their individual county drive for a land use bill and joined forces with Bishop's bill.
Since the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County which was an integral part of Bishop's bill, the PLI isn't going anywhere.
The Emery County Public Lands Council met for a work meeting before their regular meeting to discuss where Emery County should head with their land use bill.
County Commissioner Paul Cowley said he was disappointed to hear about the Bears Ears National Monument. He believes it to be locking up a lot of property in the state of Utah.
Lands council member JR Nelson suggested the lands council write a letter to the department of the interior voicing opposition to Bears Ears.
Randy Johnson, public lands consultant to the county said, "The PLI is no longer a vehicle for us to move forward. Where do we want to be? Do we want to move forward as an individual county? I have talked to Rep. Chaffetz office and they were supportive as was Sen. Hatch and Rep. Bishop's office. It's my recommendation Emery County needs to finish the process. We need to move forward with the best elements of the Emery County bill. Emery County has been in the process a long time and we have a prepared product. The PLI is not going anywhere."
There were concerns from council members that the San Rafael Swell is still on the top of the list for some type of designation. Johnson said he believes the Desolation Canyon area is a concern for wilderness designation.
Council member Bruce Wilson made a motion the lands council prepare and submit a county only land use bill to the Emery County commission for their approval and consent to move forward with the bill.
Original members of the public lands council said when the council was created in 1995 they didn't know in 2017 they would be dealing with the same land use issue.
Johnson said if there's ever a time, the county's bill gets out of control back in Washington, the commissioners will pull the bill.
Val Payne suggested anything in Emery County's bill that was changed or removed as part of the PLI be reinserted and keep any improvements to the bill the PLI provided. Payne said over the years those working on Emery County bills have learned the language to use and the proper protocols for presenting a bill in Congress. The language and provisions in the bill will be designed in the format required by Washington as a feasible bill that has a chance of passing.
Johnson said the language concerning the Antiquities Act will be ran as a separate bill. The representatives in Washington are trying to exempt Utah from being subject to the Antiquities Act.
The council agreed the Emery County bill is ready to go and may need only some minor tweaks to language.
Payne said in the previous process the county was moving forward and almost ready to send the bill to Congress when the Utah State Legislature intervened and asked the county to take certain steps. The county complied to these legislative requirements. It was during this time the county joined with the PLI.
Johnson said the public lands in Emery County are a federal issue. It is important to have the state support but doesn't think it's Emery County's job to go and get the state support, he thinks this should come from the federal delegation asking for the state support.
Johnson said Washington will be in a transition period the next couple of months. Emery County hopes to have a bill ready to present by early spring, hopefully between March and May. "I don't see anything that can stop us, we've had the discussion with the legislators and they are ready to move forward," said Johnson.
Rod Player, public lands chairman discussed the meeting schedule for 2017. All meetings will be at 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday of the month. July will be a field trip onto the forest and the date for it will be set at a later time.
Jake Palma from the BLM said they are experiencing some changes in their office. Matt Blocker the outdoor rec planner is going to the state office. Ahmed Mohsen will be leaving the Price Field Office to become the district manager for Color Country in Cedar City. The San Rafael desert was busy over the holidays. The alternatives are out for the San Rafael Master Leasing plan and the comment period open until Jan. 20. The scoping for the Temple Mountain Goblin Valley expansion is closed. The comments will be looked over and summarized. A set of alternatives will be developed from the comments. Palma said all comments must be a substantive comment and meet certain criteria. Form letters of the same type will count as one comment.
Palma said they are working with the forest service on the Deer Creek mine pipeline project. There were objections to the pipeline project from the Sierra Club and Heal Utah. The BLM and forest service will do more analysis on the water. The pipeline will carry water from the Rilda portal down the Rilda Canyon road along SR-31 to the Huntington power plant where it would enter a holding pond.
Darren Olsen from the forest service said the project is under appeal and is now in the objection process. A team will review the project. The team hasn't made a decision yet. The team had some concerns about the project. The team will instruct and help Deer Creek rewrite the project or redo the project. The pipeline will run along the current right of way along the highway.
Marc Stilson from the Utah Division of water rights talked about upcoming legislation that the county needs to be aware of. One dealt with in-stream flow rights. This is currently valid for change applications only and could be used by the Division of Wildlife Resources, fishing groups, State parks for environmental and recreational purposes. The change in law would allow municipalities to do the same thing to protect or improve water quality. This change application for in-stream flow is being pushed by Salt Lake County. Craig Johansen, from Castle Dale is on the water task force that discussed this.
Stilson said the change application is only good from your point of diversion to the next point of diversion.
Stilson said he thinks they are doing this so they can show beneficial use of water without using the water.
Roger Barton said cities have shares of water and the irrigation companies have the water rights. Nelson said along Huntington Creek there are several with water rights. The Farm Bureau representative said larger cities who want to grow want to keep water in the stream which they might take out and use in the future.
McElprang said he has concerns about water from coal mines being diverted down a different drainage. When Skyline Mine is closed the water will go down the Price River drainage.
Payne said there have been these water and coal mine issues going on for some time. It's difficult to prove the water would have gone down your drainage. The water companies need to have a lot of monitoring of streams and flows to prove their cases. Emery Town is currently dealing with this situation of water being diverted down a different drainage.
Stilson said coal mines can meet their monitoring requirements with three measurements per year.
More real time monitoring of flows is needed. Jay Mark Humphrey and the Emery Water Conservancy District do a lot of stream and flow monitoring.
Mining in the Greens Hollow area could affect water in the drainage. Stilson said the mines have spend millions on monitoring. He thinks more real time monitoring needs to be done above and below where mining will take place.
McElprang said he isn't against mining, he would like to see water protected. Payne said the lawyers for the mines will ask for data, if you don't have data to back up your case, it's a challenge to prove water has been lost.
Sherril Ward, lands council member said the pumps are running at Skyline and they pump back into Electric Lake.
Stilson said there are water rights attached to underground water, but it's hard to prove where the water is going.
The group agreed water is crucial for the county for the people, mining and livestock. Stilson will keep an eye on water bills at the legislature that can affect the county.
Wilson wondered if they needed to reorganize the water subcommittee which was used in the formation of the land use bill.
Stilson said there was a hearing in Green River where Kane County was granted an extension on their water rights which they are leasing to the Blue Castle Holdings for the nuclear power plant. It was established that Kane County had satisfied all the requirements.
Olsen reported on the South Horn Mountain Project. They will be eliminating mountain shrub to try to bring back sagebrush to contribute to the sage grouse habitat in the area. A prescribed burn is planned for the north slopes on Trail Mountain to eliminate conifer.
With Matt Locker leaving the BLM until his replacement is hired, the Joe's Valley Bouldering area process may be delayed.
Olsen said a chunk of the Bears Ears monument is forest service land. They are still trying to figure out the impacts of this designation. The gates on the forest have been kept open for cow elk hunts. There's good snow on the forest.
Jonathon from state parks said they are grooming snowmobile trails and there's about three feet of snow up there currently. Snowut.com has updates on all the trail conditions. Millsite Reservoir was the site for an ice fishing tournament.
Ray Petersen, public lands director attended the water users meeting for the Colorado River in Las Vegas. It's a big deal with attendees from all around the West and Mexico. There are a lot of people there interested in our water stated Petersen. "There are very few rural folks that attend. If you're a member of a water users association then go. There's no more important resource than our water. It's interesting what's taking place outside of Emery County that affects Emery County (water).
Ward reported the snow levels are 141 percent of average and it's a good start.
The farm bureau representative reported there's only one permittee left on the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The communities around the monument are drying up and people moving out.
Payne said these latest developments with Bears Ears and others lead to an urgency to get Emery County's bill passed. It's taken 10 years but the grazing is all but eliminated in Grand Staircase.
Loren Huntsman gave an update on the power plants. Currently they are working on complying with all regulations that are in place. They do have lawsuits filed and requested a stay on the implementation of the regional haze plan.
Huntsman said they are in hopes regulations will be lessened in the future without additional regulations, but currently they are working to be in compliance with all current regulations.
The power company works with public perception and currently that's very green. They plan to operate their coal fired plants to the end of their useful lives. Ward wondered what happened to the water from Castle Gate power plant. There are municipalities leasing it.
There are plans to bring deer from Bountiful to Joe's Valley. This plan is OK, but the deer don't stay in the mountains and currently reside around the towns eating farmers haystacks.