Government Agencies Address Closures at Public Lands Meeting

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By Julie Johansen

With fewer than normal agencies attending, the Emery County Public Lands Council met virtually on Tuesday. Chairman Rod Player’s opening comments included reminders to the council members that they had sent several printed reports from regular agencies’ attendees in place of the April meeting, which was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the meeting, Ray Petersen, Emery County Public Lands Administrator, reported that the Utah Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and FLIPCO forwarded the names of the appointees for the advisory council of the Dingel Act to the federal level of the BLM for approval and appointment.

Next, Chris Conrad, BLM, introduced Joseph F. Rodarme, who is the new NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) Director at the BLM’s Price Field Office. He outlined some of the NEPA issues they are considering at the Price office, including Good Water Rim, Graphite Solar Project, Lila Canyon, William’s Draw, Chalk Hill Gypsum Mine and Twin Ridges Helium. These issues are all open for public comments at this time.

Conrad then reported to the council the intent to close several mine portals north of I-70 on the Swell. He stated that they are dangerous in their current state, but a short entrance will be left open to the public following the closures. This 10-foot opening would allow a historic look while closing the unstable shafts. These opening are off Exit 141 on I-70. Conrad explained that a public comment meeting on this topic will be difficult because it would have to be virtual.

Petersen requested that historical structures be left for interpretive study later. Conrad said that they would not close any active mines or mines that have active claims, even if they are not being mined at the present time.

Conrad also addressed travel management plans for the area. After five years of study, the desert is almost done and the Pinion Juniper area is waiting for Fish and Wildlife reports that are due on May 8. He also reported that the Jurassic Monument (Dinosaur Quarry) will open on May 15 for four or five days per week. Mitigation is in place, limiting the number of people in the quarry in accordance with government and CDC guidelines.

Troy Suwyn, Forest Service representative, then reported that all employees are working from home and need to be contacted on their cell phones. If anyone needs these numbers, they can call the main office. The forest plan is still moving along, but some parts have been put on hold because of the difficulty in hosting public meetings.

Seasonal Forest Service employees will begin work this week, Suwyn reported. All fires have been put on hold, so there will be no controlled burns on the Manti-La Sal this spring or summer. This is because of the need for first responders in relation to the COVID-19 crisis at this time.

Some council members had questions on the burn limitations in the state, especially for those who have been clearing their lands to install sprinklers for the salinity projects. They were told to speak with Jeremy Jorgensen, but some felt that farmers were exempt from the no burn rules.

Swuyn also reported that some gates are open but most remain closed or will be closing as the snow is melting and roads become muddy. Some gates, including Lake Fork, Horn Mountain and Ferron, may open this week. Lowry Water is closed as well as Cottonwood Canyon, Skyline, Cottonwood, Nuck Woodward and North Joe’s Valley roads.

James Wells, Goblin Valley Park Ranger, invited everyone to the park on weekdays, but explained that weekends are crowded and they are governing with a one in, one out rule. He also reported that the state parks are working with the BLM to improve signage to try and lower the amount of search and rescue in that area, but where they are put is determined by the BLM.

The Washington delegation said they are following the transfer of the Joe’s Valley Dam title and they are also hearing rumblings of a Phase 4 stimulus package, but it has become very politicized.

During the council member reports, Sherrel Ward reported that April has been extremely dry, but the water year allocations will be still be 100%. The reservoirs are looking good but are down a bit from last year. The Emery Water Conservancy District is planning on turning some water down Cottonwood to allow for run over in Joe’s Valley Reservoir.

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