Grand County Council invites new Secretary of Interior to visit area
by Molly Marcello
The Times-Independent
Feb 02, 2017 | 1032 views | 0 0 comments | 122 122 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Should he become U.S. Secretary of the Interior, nominee Rep. Ryan Zinke now has an open invitation from Grand County to visit with local elected officials during any future trips to southeastern Utah. A letter to Zinke, approved 5-1 by the Grand County Council Jan. 31, describes building a “productive working relationship” with the new Secretary of the Interior, who will lead two of the federal agencies that manage the majority of lands in Grand County — the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National Park Service (NPS).

“We would greatly appreciate the chance to discuss the public land issues facing Grand County,” the council’s letter states. “We look forward to meeting with you, and to a productive working relationship.”

Last year, former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell met with the Grand County Council during a weeklong trip to southeastern Utah.

“Anytime that the Department of the Interior Secretary would come through, it would be wise to establish a working relationship with the person,” said county council member Chris Baird.

Although the main focus of Jewell’s visit was the then-potential Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County, she discussed issues facing Grand County as well, gathering local insights on the BLM’s Master Leasing Plan (MLP) as well as Rep. Rob Bishop’s bill, the Utah Public Lands Initiative.

“ ... It’s always worth talking with those folks about how things work in Grand County and have a discussion about public lands issues as to how they relate to Grand County,” Baird added.

Zinke is also anticipated to visit southern Utah regarding the Bears Ears National Monument, created by executive order by President Barack Obama on Dec. 28.

In his introductory remarks to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Jan. 31, Rep. Zinke promised to listen to the views of local communities, identifying as his top priority “[restoring] trust by working with rather than against local communities and states.”

“The view from the Potomac is a lot different than the view from the Missouri,” Zinke later added. “ ... You do need to listen to the local folks and the state [folks] because they live there.”

Council member Curtis Wells agreed that the Grand County Council should reach out to Zinke, noting that the invitation “to come in to break some bread” is a good idea.

However, Wells took issue with the invitation’s content, specifically the letter’s use of the word “balanced” to describe the MLP process.

The council’s letter states that Grand County has recently worked with the BLM “to create a balanced Management Framework Plan for energy leasing in our county ... ”

Wells argued that the Master Leasing Plan is actually “highly contentious” and advocated that the council remove the word “balanced” from the letter.

BLM representatives have described the Moab MLP, released last month, as a guiding document for federal land use decisions regarding mineral leasing.

Many recreational and conservation associations have lauded the Moab MLP as a balanced way to guide responsible mineral development while also protecting natural resources and recreational opportunities. But others view Master Leasing Plans in general, currently in development by BLM field offices throughout the West, as unnecessary and restrictive to mineral development.

“The [MLP] was labeled as balanced but a lot of folks view it as more of lobbying efforts standing on the back of natural resource development,” Wells said.

He argued that the current make up and political affiliation of the county council has changed since the governing body last took a stance on the MLP process.

“If you’re just going to carry over previous opinion from a council of different makeup, it would be nice to have some discussions before you guys draft these letters and just drop it on us. Especially this particular part of the letter that’s highly debatable,” Wells said.

But chairwoman Jaylyn Hawks noted that the previous county council also had a diverse range of opinion about the MLP process.

Former council member Lynn Jackson often spoke against the MLP, usually providing a dissenting vote to any letter the Grand County Council sent the BLM and elected officials regarding the process. And when former Secretary Jewell visited Grand County last year, Jackson directly told her about his opposition to the MLP process.

“We had a very diverse council that has sent multiple letters in support of the process,” Hawks said. “And so if and when the Secretary of the Interior comes and visits that would be your opportunity to make your views known.”

Baird said that the many views of the council are often made clear to elected officials regarding public lands issues.

“In my opinion, every time we talk about the Master Leasing Plan with any state level representative or federal level representative, the diverse views of the council have always made their way through,” Baird said.

The letter was approved as-is 5-1, with Wells voting against, and council member Rory Paxman absent.

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