By Julie Johansen
Emery County Public Lands Council Chairman Rod Player opened the April meeting on Tuesday with comments about a proposed amendment to the Emery County General Plan. He announced that councilman Ray Peterson drafted a proposal that had been sent to council members and comments had been received. He asked the council to study it and the comments so that recommendations to the planning and zoning committee could be made.
Player explained that this amendment would bring the transportation section of the general plan up to date, emphasizing the importance of trails and roads to Emery County as the travel has increased exponentially. He listed the reasons this was necessary: 1. To maintain county roads; 2. To engage the Utah Department of Transportation; 3. To engage the federal transportation system; 4. To enlist the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to see needs; 5. To participate in the planning process of the BLM; 6. To develop a comprehensive inventory. This topic was not on the agenda so no action could be taken, but a general statement was given to approve the amendment.
Following a presentation by SITLA, the Emery County Commissioners reported. Commissioner Kent Wilson stated that SITLA was in a rough situation and wanted Bears Ears to remain as it was. He was grateful to SITLA for working with Emery County, stating that anything moved into Trust Lands is beneficial to the county.
Wilson then turned his time over to Jim Jennings, who recently visited the desert with a couple of attorneys. After visiting, he felt that the BLM generally made good choices. They reviewed the roads and trails and found that 33 out of the proposed 35 miles to be closed were not used. However, it was stated that the entire process would be better if the county could be involved in the decision making process with the government. Jennings also had a concern about the vandalism they found. Cameras are being considered as a means to stop the vandalism.
The agencies then began their reports. Kyle Beagley of the Bureau of Land Management expressed his appreciation for the trail work in the Chimney Rock Area. A meeting on the Jurassic Park Monument road is scheduled for Wednesday, April 13. The Federal Highway Commission is looking at some alternate routes. A settlement agreement on the San Rafael Desert hasn’t been approved yet. He is hoping for a June or July time frame. He also announced that the burrow gather is still scheduled for later this month and a press release will be distributed with more information. He explained that there are five conveyances in land exchanges. Goblin Valley and Emery Sheriff are being reviewed by the state. Buckhorn Flat, Emery County and the Huntington Airport are included in a MOA sent to the county. He stressed how important public comments are to help regulate public lands.
Marc Stilson, Utah State Water Engineer, stated that the secondary water metering bill passed the recent legislative session, but he felt that Emery County may receive an exemption. However, the grant monies are greater the sooner they are applied for, starting at 70% and decreasing each year. He then reported that studies are underway on dam safety standards for Joe’s Valley and Huntington North reservoirs. The studies are about six months out and will review the spillway and seepage of the dam.
John Baza from the Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining then reported that Lila Canyon Mine has applied for an expansion of leases. These depend on lease permits from the federal level. The state is moving forward but a federal mine plan has to happen. Baza also said that it was the year of water with the state legislature. The infrastructure act will fund abandoned mine closures and well plugs in reclamation. He reported interest in helium mines but no specific applications at this time. Additionally, cultural mineral interests are beginning to surface.
Next, Justin Hard, Division of Wildlife Resources Aquatic Biologist, reported that they are producing tiger muskie to plant in Joe’s Valley. He spoke about how they manage stocking lakes in a drought situation. Fishing may be low because of stocking strategy, so they may stock earlier before the water bodies get low and hot. He also reported that Bouldger Reservoir will be drained so that Skyline Mine can begin to mine underneath it for the next couple of years. Finally, Hard reported that a fly fishing clinic is scheduled in Price on April 23 and the migratory bird watching is slated for May 17-19. Interested parties are encouraged to call the office for reservations.
Following this, Forest Ranger Darin Olsen introduced John Collin from the Ephraim office, who is in charge of the timber sales on the Manti-La Sal. He said that they share employees between the two offices, but Skyline Drive is essentially the division line. Olson also reported that sage grouse counts on Wildcat and Horn Mountains are continuing but weather and travel can hamper the counting efforts. Additionally, the Forest Service has received over 6,000 comments regarding the forest plan they are working on. He then reported that because of the continuing drought, grazing permits were being lowered by 20% either in time or numbers depending an each herd management decision. They have been doing pile burning on the forest near Lowry Water, and seasonal and temporary employment is happening at this time.
Larry Johansen reported that most of the state parks are open but the new restrooms at Huntington have been put on hold for a month.
Ryan Jones, Utah Department of Agriculture, reported that the Emery Irrigation System is finishing with big lines and a 40 acre feet reservoir will be installed this summer to fill the lines. He then spoke about grants available for irrigation upgrades, stating that they are matching grants. There is also an open position as a conservation planner, which can be applied for online.
The Washington delegation then addressed the council. Joel Brown from Senator Mike Lee’s office stated that they are working on legislation dealing with inflation and housing. Senator Mitt Romney is trying to curtail government spending on COVID and looking for modifications. Larry Ellerton said they have an ongoing interest in public lands and are monitoring all local land issues. He stated that Grand County is working on conservation areas issues. He also told of the Golden Passport that gives immigrants an automatic passport to the US.