Local resident Bill Love and others have criticized the Grand County Council’s move to develop suggestions about the long-term management of federal lands in the county.
The council began that process in mid-November by forming a three-person committee to develop a list of possible land use recommendations for future consideration.
Council members said at the start that they planned to present the group’s ideas to the public in early 2014. Since that time, they’ve released a statement that reiterates the county’s interest in hearing citizens’ ideas on the matter.
But Love argues that the council’s process should have been open to citizens from the first committee meeting onward.
“We should be hearing about these alternatives at the beginning … not at the end,” Love said.
Rep. Rob Bishop’s office has already heard from hundreds of stakeholders who have an interest in a sweeping public lands bill that the Utah Republican plans to introduce in Congress some time next year.
But Love believes that Grand County’s feedback on public land designations will be especially crucial to Bishop, since it’s supposed to represent the views of its residents as a whole.
“It’s one of many different recommendations, but it’s an important one,” he said.
Love counts himself among residents who are concerned about potash exploration, energy development and other kinds of industrial activities on public lands – especially those along the state Route 313 corridor.
“We’re looking at the industrialization of the third most important tourist area we have in this county,” he said.
Bishop’s initiative could ultimately determine whether those lands will be set aside as wilderness or recreation areas on the one hand, or opened up to development on the other, he said.
“This is an allocation of land to usages that will become law,” he said. “People need to understand what this process will do.”
Love said he’s glad that the county council is actively reaching out to the community.
“I figured that they would get the public more involved as time goes on,” he said. “That’s good to hear.”
As for the council’s involvement in the process, Love, who initially alleged that council member Lynn Jackson had a conflict of interest and should not be involved in the committee, now says it’s not his place to say whether Jackson should serve on it.
Jackson does consulting work for Del Fortner Consulting, which has represented American Potash in its dealings with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
He first declared his relationship with the consultant in October 2012, and he noted that American Potash has never sought the county council’s approval on any matters. Jackson said that if the company does require the council’s approval in the future, he would recuse himself from voting on any related action items.
Love said he was concerned that Jackson failed to disclose that consulting work when he spoke to an Environment and Energy Publishing reporter and others about Bishop’s lands initiative.
Love subsequently asked Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald to determine if Jackson’s work amounts to a conflict of interest. Fitzgerald was still looking into the matter as of press time Wednesday.
In the meantime, Jackson released a point-by-point response to Love’s allegations. Among other things, he repeated his October 2012 declaration of his consulting work for Del Fortner.
Love said he’s satisfied by the response.
“I’m very happy that he did state his conflict regarding his affiliation with Fortner,” Love said. “That’s fine with me. That’s all I was really asking for.”
Jackson, meanwhile, is ready to put the matter behind him.
“I’m glad he’s done here and we’re not running down this rabbit hole anymore,” he said Dec. 17. “Let’s move forward from here.”
Jackson, who worked for the BLM for 32 years before he retired, said he’s encouraged by the approach that Bishop is taking to resolve long-standing conflicts among public lands users.
“The Bishop lands bill is one of the neatest things and most positive things I’ve seen on public lands in decades,” he said.
It may not satisfy extremists on either side, Jackson said, but it will work for the majority of people in Grand County who understand the importance of a compromise-driven approach.
As for Jackson’s personal views on the matter, he noted that he has never made any secret of his support for the concept of multiple use management.
“I am very much for a balanced approach with how we work with Congressman Bishop’s office,” Jackson said.
As part of that balance, some public lands in Grand County should be protected, he said.
Ultimately, he said, he has the county’s best interests at heart.
The Grand County Council is currently seeking written public comments and suggestions on potential land use designations through Jan. 17, 2014.
Comments should be sent in writing directly to: Grand County Council, 125 E. Center St., Moab UT 84532, Attn: Public Lands Bill.
Once the comments have been submitted and reviewed, the council’s study committee will prepare a list of draft alternatives. The public will have a chance to comment on those suggestions during a February 2014 hearing at the Grand Center.
The county council will ultimately decide which alternative, or combination of alternatives, should be forwarded on to Bishop for his consideration. However, the council would have to go through a separate public process in order to approve any possible changes to the county’s land use code or wilderness plan.