Thursday, April 17, 2014

Grand County, Utah Public Lands Plan Fails to Address Watershed Issues

Grand County, Utah Public Lands Plan Fails to Address Watershed Issues

According to a recent press release, the Grand County Council intends to hear comments on three alternative proposals for “long-term designations of public lands” in Grand County, Utah on April 23, 2014, with their “final” decision expected sometime after May 2, 2014.

Embedded in all three Grand County alternative plans are the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act (URLEA) exchange parcels. All three Grand County proposed plans treat the URLEA as settled law. Despite its lack of legal acceptance, Grand County plans to use URLEA as the backbone for its own land use designations.

If SITLA and Grand County have their way, grasshoppers like this may soon appear in sensitive environments - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As specified in my written protests to BLM, articles here and at MoabGas.com, I strongly disagree with the proposed “reverse land swaps” in Grand County. I call it a reverse land swap whenever the Utah School and Institutional Land Trust (SITLA) will receive land and mineral rights within Grand County. Such transfer of Grand County BLM land to SITLA encourages fossil fuel exploitation in Grand County, all under the guise of a “Recreational Land Exchange”.

If the BLM and Grand County Council make their land use decisions based on URLEA’s current “Exchange Agreement”, I will consider that neither BLM nor the public had an opportunity to hear my voice. Before Grand County enshrines URLEA in its land use documents, BLM should share my written protests with the Grand County Council. Until my written protests are accepted or rejected, they are germane to Grand County’s long-term land use decisions.

Under URLEA, Parcel 32 is grazing land. After Grand County enshrines the land swap, it will become mineral exploration and development land - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)On March 25, 2014, BLM closed its acceptance of written protests to URLEA. Before that date, I submitted two written protests to BLM. According to Ms. Joy Wehking of the BLM in Salt Lake City, mine were the only written protests received. The BLM protest period lasted forty-five days. On May 1, 2014, my written protests will be more than forty-five days old. A forty-five day protest period should also be the maximum time it takes BLM to answer my written protests. Fair for one is fair for all.

On April 15, 2014, I addressed Joy Wehking with my concerns about not receiving a reply from BLM regarding my written protests. This was her answer: “Because the decision for the Utah Recreational Land Exchange that you protested was signed by the BLM Utah State Director, your protest must be reviewed and responded to by the BLM's Washington Office. They have been provided with the relevant information and will be sending you a written response to your protest. As to when this may occur, I do not know".

Only public pressure on the Grand County Council will prevent a SITLA land-grab on Parcel 32 and others - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)From my previous articles, we know that the URLEA parcel exchange is flawed. For example, Parcel 32, adjacent to Canyonlands Field received a “grazing land” appraisal. Upon completion of the “reverse swap” conveyance, SITLA is on record with BLM that they plan to sell that parcel and its mineral rights to the private sector. If that happens, Moab visitors will likely find a petrochemical production and distribution facility intertwined with and dwarfing the Moab Airport.

The Grand County Council, which never saw a steer or an old energy extractionist that it does not like should start posting signs welcoming visitors to “Moab – The New Industrial Desert”.

For the past few years, Grand County resident Kiley Miller has kept her email contacts informed about assaults on the environment in Grand County. In her latest email (below), she lays out the stakes for all to see. The Grand County Council Public Lands Working Committee, recently proposed three alternatives for the future of public lands in Grand County. When the Grand County Council, loaded with “wild westers” appoints a committee to create land use plans, we can all expect the worst.


Under the Grand County land use plan, the roadless Book Cliffs will receive a mile wide tar sands transportation corridor - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As Kiley miller said, “We expected bad, but this is far worse”.

Background: On April 9, 2014, the Grand County Council Public Lands Working Committee identified three alternatives, along with maps, for long-term designations of public lands in Grand County. A public meeting is scheduled for 6 pm Wednesday April 23, 2014 at the Grand Center to present the maps and to take public comments; the Grand County Council will accept written comments on the proposal until May 2, 2014.

Even the best alternative (Alternative #3) proposed by the Working Committee would roll back environmental protection in Grand County. Members of the County Council need to hear from you; the County must “GO BEYOND #3” and strenuously improve the Working Committee’s proposal.

All the alternatives ignored the public input that the county received. Of the 182 letters received by the Council from Grand County residents and business owners, nearly 90% favored strong wilderness and public lands protection.

Under proposed Grand County land use plans, the La Sal Range, and therefore, the Moab Valley watershed would receive no protection at all - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)And yet, the County’s best alternative (Alternative #3): Protects just over half (58%, or 484,446 acres) of the proposed wilderness in Grand County -- and then riddles that “protected wilderness” with ORV routes. The Working Committee decided that places like Porcupine Rim, Mary Jane Canyon, Fisher Towers, Goldbar Rim, the Dome Plateau, and most of Labyrinth, including Mineral, Hell Roaring, Spring, and Tenmile canyons, were unworthy of wilderness protection.
•  Would punch a hole through the heart of the Book Cliffs -- one of the largest remaining roadless areas in the lower 48 states -- to build a “Hydrocarbon Highway” for fossil fuels extraction. The county proposes a mile-wide “transportation corridor” (proposed as 2 miles wide in the other alternatives) to ship fossil fuels from the Uinta Basin and proposed tar sands mining in the Book Cliffs to dreamed-of refineries in Green River, or to the railway.
•  Leaves open to oil and gas drilling the entire view shed east of Arches National Park, including the world-famous view from Delicate Arch. The Working Committee rejected proposed wilderness areas east of Arches. This is the same area that caused a national uproar and sent Tim DeChristopher to prison when, in its the waning days, the George W. Bush Administration sold the famous 77 oil and gas leases. Under the county’s best proposal, leasing and drilling in that region may follow.
The proposed "Hydrocarbon Highway" in the roadless Book Cliffs may look like this in just a few years - Click for larger image (photo courtesy Kiley Miller)•  Allows oil and gas drilling and potash mining on the rim of Labyrinth Canyon (upstream from Spring Canyon). The lack of real protection in the greater Labyrinth Canyon area in all three proposals is a glaring and curious omission.
•  Supports continued off road vehicle abuse and offers zero concessions on ORV routes designated in the Bush-era BLM travel plan -- even though the planning of those routes likely failed to follow the law. The county would codify the BLM’s Bush-era route designations even though a federal judge recently set aside a nearly identical travel plan in the Richfield BLM office for failure to comply with legal mandates to protect archaeology, riparian areas and other natural resources. It is just a matter of time before the Court overturns the challenged Moab travel plan.
•  Fails to protect Moab’s watershed. There is no wilderness proposed for the La Sal Mountains on US Forest Service land. Destructive cattle grazing will continue.
•  Limits the use of the Antiquities Act in Grand County -- the same act that was used by three different Presidents to protect what is now Arches National Park.

Previous attempts to industrialize the desert at Moab resulted in billion dollar, taxpayer funded cleanup programs - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Alternatives 1 & 2 are even worse. Both would impose a 2-mile wide transportation corridor for the Hydrocarbon Highway through the heart of the Book Cliffs. This is wide enough to build an entire city within the corridor. Alternatives 1 & 2 provide even less protection for Grand County’s proposed wilderness and less protection from oil & gas and potash development.

What you can do:

The Grand County Council needs to hear from you!
1. Please, call your council members at (435) 259-1342 and let them know they need to improve Alternative 3. This should be the beginning of the discussion in Grand County, not the end.
2. Attend the public meeting Wednesday, April 23rd at 6 pm at the Grand Center.
3. Send a letter to the Grand County Council before May 2nd:
Grand County Council
125 E Center Street
Moab, UT 84532

Also, send a copy of your letter to:
Mr. Fred Ferguson
Legislative Director, Rep. Rob Bishop
123 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515


Thank you, Kiley Miller and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) for the above information.

Moab and Grand County, Utah now stand at a crossroad. On the old energy side of the road, sit the ranchers, miners and mineral extractors. On the new energy side of the road, sit outdoors people, environmentalists, botanists, photographers… and even a few Jeep owners, such as myself. If you care about the future of Moab, and are a “citizen” of this world, let the officials listed above know how you feel. Otherwise, do not be surprised when the industrial desert drowns out any serenity still present in Grand County, Utah.