County, BLM officials discuss master leasing plan concerns
by Jeff Richards
contributing writer
Jul 26, 2012 | 2693 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Grand County Council members met with Bureau of Land Management officials last Wednesday, July 18, to clear the air regarding the BLM’s policy-making process, especially as it pertains to managing oil, gas, and potash developments on public lands.

Utah State BLM Director Juan Palma was on hand to address issues that had arisen in recent letters sent by the council several BLM officials.

In a June 26 letter, written on Grand County stationery and signed by council chairman Gene Ciarus, Ciarus blasted BLM for allegedly holding closed-door negotiations with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and leaving Grand County officials out of important discussions.

Ciarus’ letter angered several county council members, who said he violated council policy in sending the letter before it was approved by the council. On July 3, council members voted 5-2 to rescind Ciarus’ letter and send a different letter to the BLM. In that letter, signed by Ciarus as council chairman, the council apologized to BLM officials, saying the first letter was “sent in haste” and that “there was confusion regarding the complexities of the Master Leasing Plan (MLP) and Resource Management Plan (RMP) process.”

The July 3 letter also requested a follow-up meeting be held as soon as possible to discuss the issues.

“I’m not blaming anybody,” Ciarus said during the July 18 meeting, adding that he just wanted some clarification regarding the BLM’s decision-making process. “It appears that we’ve been left out of that process.”

Palma thanked the council for the opportunity to answer questions and clarify the situation. He was joined at the meeting by local BLM officials, including Moab Field Office Manager Rock Smith and Canyon Country District Manager Shelley Smith.

Shelley Smith said the resource management plan concept has been in place since 2008. She also said that the Canyon Country district, which covers Moab and Monticello, involves one of six master leasing plans that will be created for Utah and is the MLP that is the furthest along at this point. Even so, she said, the management plan for the area isn’t expected to be finalized until the fall of 2014.

According to Brent Northrup, MLP project manager for Moab’s BLM office, the two-month public scoping period for the Moab and Monticello Master Leasing Plan, which comprises about 783,000 acres of public lands within the planning area, took place earlier this year, from March 5 to May 7.

Additional input will still be needed and solicited as the process moves forward, BLM officials said.

“It’s a public process,” Palma noted.

According to BLM figures, there are currently 170 potash prospecting permit applications, encompassing more than 350,000 acres in the planning area, and expressions of interest to lease oil and gas on more than 120,000 acres within the planning area.

Palma said the master leasing plan is part of a federal directive memorandum issued on May 17, 2010 and sent out to BLM offices nationwide. Palma said he became the BLM state director for Utah a couple months later, in July of 2010.

Palma said that discussions with SUWA officials did not influence or drive the MLP. He acknowledged that the issue did come up during closed-door talks with SUWA representatives regarding a SUWA lawsuit that challenged several BLM resource management plans.

Palma said the master leasing plan “was not a result of the settlement talks… it was merely part of the conversation.” The negotiations ultimately failed and no settlement was reached with SUWA, Palma added.

Palma said the master leasing plan is a tool designed to facilitate land management and the leasing process for mineral extraction on public lands, not to inhibit it.

“It’s not about stopping economic development,” Palma added. “It’s about finding that balance between the economy and the environment.”

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