Early Morning Meeting Questions Support of EC Public Lands Bill

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By Julie Johansen

The Emery County Commissioners called a special meeting Monday morning at 6:30 a.m. to reconsider their support for the Emery County Public Lands Bill. This decision was made on Saturday because the commissioners discovered that the bill could be on the Senate floor as early as Monday morning. Members of the OHV Club had requested more information and possible reconsideration. Specifically, there were concerns about some roads in the southeastern portion of Emery County that the OHV Club was afraid would be closed as a result of the bill.

A standing-room-only crowd was in attendance with OHV groups from the Wasatch Front, surrounding counties and local citizens came to the meeting.

Emery County Commissioner Kent Wilson first addressed the concerns of the roads in question. The commissioners had met with the Bureau of Land management, and the roads are not currently designated roads, so the bill would not affect the status of those routes.

Each commissioner explained their decision to support the bill. All three commissioners stated that there are things in the bill that they are personally unhappy with, but they had to look at the good of the county as a whole in their final decision. There are three things that they felt made it necessary to make the compromise:

1. Stronger language for management and the addition of an advisory council for trails with local representation.

2. SITLA lands trades especially around some mineral extraction areas in Emery County, which could mean almost a large increase in mineral lease money for the county and additional revenue for schools in Utah.

3. Candland Mountain withdrawal from the proposed wilderness. This is important for watershed and mineral purposes.

So, the compromise was made in December.

Questions and concerns from the OHV groups, including the president of the Utah OHV Association, were road closures, stronger and more protective language for recreation areas, roads and trails on the desert, protection for future generations, and more wilderness designations. Members also wanted more transparency with regards to things of this nature.

Brock Johansen, CEO of Emery Telcom, spoke to the group as a concerned businessman and citizen. He reported that the only way to protect from a future executive order of a monument was to make legislation to protect the land. He reported that his family had fought for access to the Swell for at least three generations and, without legislation, a simple signature could take all that away, especially if there is a change in leadership at the national executive level. Johansen further explained that the bill did not lessen the right to use routes and would probably strengthen that right through the establishment of the advisory council because of how the boundaries had been developed. He asked the group to continue to fight by developing the current trails and developing a trail system through the proper process, and explained that Emery Telcom has been donating equipment to the county to help maintain the current routes. Johansen also explained that the Emery County Commission has consistently ran articles and information in the newspaper as well as streamed local meetings on television and online to keep the public informed.

Steve Hawkins, the President of the Utah ATV Association, stated that he was not pleased with everything in the bill but that it might be the best option, but that the real fight would be after passing the bill. He was nervous about wilderness designation next to current trails. He agreed that increased focus should be placed on trail maintenance and praised the commission and the Emery County Trails Committee. He stated that his association could be a great resource to Emery County in these efforts. Hawkins stressed that his association and the commission were not enemies and needed to work together.

After deliberation and considerable discussion, the motion was made to continue commission support of the lands bill. The motion passed unanimously.

To watch the meeting, please click here. Due to duration, the video has been separated into two parts.

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