By Julie Johansen
Either virtually or in person, all agencies were in attendance for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began at October’s Emery County Public Lands meeting. Chairman Rod Player opened the meeting on Tuesday morning with the statement, “If you can get it in here, you can get it home.”
Player has spent time on both Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands and was concerned about the amount of litter that is accumulating on the lands. He cautioned all to be mindful and to pack anything out that is packed in, especially since there are many more people using these lands now.
Commissioner Gil Conover then announced that Emery County received $7 million in grant funding as well as $490,000 in the form of a loan from the Community Impact Board to aid in the San Rafael Research Center construction. “This is a big win for Emery County,” he said.
Conover explained that the funds will help to further the development of the thorium (nuclear) research as well as the carbon fiber and hydrogen fuel research. This funding was granted to Emery County last Thursday, so things are off and rolling at the San Rafael Research Center.
The commissioner also noted that there are two positions open on the advisory board for public lands created by the Dingell Act. These are to be filled by a conservationist and a tribal member. The board now consists of five members and will move ahead.
The National Environmental Policy Act Coordinator from the Bureau of Land Management reported to the council that the San Rafael Travel Management Plan should be done in November. Chairman Player questioned about road closure signs being placed on open roads in the Swell. The coordinator answered they were not aware of these road closures and he would investigate the concern.
State Water Engineer Marc Stilson next told of two change applications affecting water usage in Emery County. One is with the Cottonwood Creek Irrigation Company as water users in the lower ditches, including Mill, Jorgensen and Seely, have traded their water rights to the CCIC for shares in the company so that they can hook up to sprinklers.
“This should be good for both the water company and the users,” Stilson remarked. The other was a change from the Old San Rafael to 180 acres west of Green River.
The Deputy Director of the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining reported a decline in both oil and natural gas production in Emery County. When questioned why, he replied that oil production has never been high in Emery County and the state overall has seen a decline in natural gas because of the abundance as well as horizontal drilling.
Brian Torgersen from the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration reported that they are working on the land exchanges required by the Dingell Act. He also announced that helium is in big demand as the federal projects are being depleted. The lease on the Emery County industrial park wests of Green River is expiring and will be used for a public land exchange.
Darin Olsen, Forest Ranger, also stressed that a huge increase of people are recreating on the Forest. The National Visitor Use Monitoring program is beginning and visitors to the Forest could be asked questions about their use during this monitoring. He then reported that this has been the driest year for grazers but most have been able to stay on the Forest for the majority of the permitted time.
Olsen then spoke on the gravel pit on the north side of Gooseberry Reservoir, which will aid in road maintenance in that area. In addition, they are doing some work on Mahogany Point on Horn Mountain to open the wildlife habitat with young mahogany growth. A bridge on the Miller’s Flat road will be replaced between Oct. 20 and 30 and the road will be closed during that time.
The Forest Ranger also said that Skyline Mine is working on a permit to pipe and pump on the north end of Electric Lake to help take care of the water into the mine. They are also seeking exploratory drilling permits.
The Forest Service was asked about the operation of the Joe’s Valley Dam and what impact the transfer of the title to the land will have on recreation. They stated that they understood that the recreation of that area would still be under their management; however, details are still being ironed out. Olsen also announced that applications for part time forest service jobs, including firefighters, are available for the next three to four weeks for next summer’s employment.
Kyle Beagley told of the Forest Plan available on their website for public review. The final plan will be done in January, so there is time to review the documents and make comments before the final scoping.
Chris Wood, Division of Wildlife Resources, reported that the Huntington Creek restoration is underway to improve fishing. Also, gill netting is occurring at the present time at Joe’s Valley and Electric Lake. Finally, he announced that youth pheasant hunts are scheduled for Oct. 10 at the Hatt Ranch in Green River and Oct. 21 at Desert Lake.
Larry Johansen, Utah State Parks, stated that things are up in the air while waiting for the transferal from the Bureau of Reclamation to Emery Water Conservancy District. He said that they don’t yet know the details, but they expect that it will be a mirror of what has been happening.
Nate Roberts from the Dept. of Agriculture reported on a busy year with range improvements. He announced that applications are available now for range improvements, which he said are very competitive and in limited supply. There is also COVID-19 funding available for producers who can show direct loss in food and fiber production. These can be found online at Ag.Utah.Gov. He remarked that these can be extremely beneficial to all permittees.
To conclude the meeting, council member Sherral Ward gave a reservoir report, noting the low levels of most reservoirs; Joe’s Valley at 65%, Electric Lake at 70%, Millsite at 19% and Huntington North at 52%.