Monday, July 6, 2020


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    Appeal challenges Grand County’s position on SITLA land use exemption

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    A private citizen has taken the Grand County Attorney to task for concluding that the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration does not have to comply with the Grand County land use code.

    Marcus LaFrance has appealed a conclusion submitted by Deputy Grand County Attorney Todd K. Jenson in a letter to attorney Christopher G. McAnany on the grounds that Jenson’s letter “constitutes a land use action.”

    That action, LaFrance wrote in his appeal filed with Grand County Attorney Happy Morgan and the Grand County Board of Adjustment on Feb. 25, “violates one or more sections of the Utah code, violates one or more sections of the Grand County Land Use Code, and violates one or more Grand County ordinance(s).”

    LaFrance, who served two terms on the Grand County Planning and Zoning Commission, much of that time as chairman, said he decided to file the appeal after learning that the Grand County Attorney’s office had written the letter to McAnany.

    In that letter, Jenson said “it does not appear” that the county may require a company leasing SITLA land for a class two injection well “to submit to a conditional use application process.”

    Because Jenson’s letter is an “action” it is subject to appeal under appeal provisions (Section 9.13) of the county land use code, LaFrance wrote.

    McAnany represents Summit Operating Group, LLC, of Park City, Utah, which has a lease with SITLA and intends to construct a produced-water disposal site on SITLA property in eastern Grand County. The facility would dispose of water produced from oil and gas wells by injecting it underground into a deep rock formation.

    In an interview this week, LaFrance also objected to the costs incurred by the Grand County Attorney for efforts he said were more inclined to favor SITLA than the county’s needs to assure the health and safety of its residents.

    “Somebody had to do something. I continue to be disappointed in the civil [law] side of our county attorney,” LaFrance said as he noted that County Attorney Happy Morgan is the county’s highest paid official who has four deputies compared to her predecessor, who had only one deputy.

    LaFrance also noted the potential loss of revenue to Grand County if produced water disposal facilities on SITLA properties are not subject to fees charged by the county. A facility at Danish Flats, the only produced-water disposal facility currently operating in Grand County, paid the county about $450,000 in fees during the past year, county officials have said. LaFrance contends that the Summit Operating Group facility would likely generate comparable revenue for the county if Summit is required to comply with the county’s land use regulations.

    LaFrance said he has also filed Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA) requests for all relevant documents with SITLA, the Grand County Council, the Grand County Clerk, and county planning and engineering officials.

    As of March 9, only SITLA has responded to his requests, LaFrance said. The state agency informed him that SITLA’s records are available for review, and that LaFrance can pay to have them reproduced or he may personally go through the files in the SITLA office.

    Copies of Jenson’s letter to McAnany, and an email citing state code that purportedly exempts SITLA from county jurisdiction, were also provided to The Times-Independent by John W. Andrews, associate director and chief legal counsel for SITLA.

    LaFrance said he has not only has paid the $100 fee required to file an appeal with the county BOA, but he must also travel to SITLA headquarters in Salt Lake City to review the agency’s documents on his own time and at his own expense.

    Calling it “absurd” that Grand County code –using a little-known exception to state law – allows the county 30 business days to respond to a GRAMA request while the state requires most government entities to respond within 10 business days, LaFrance said he is considering appealing the county GRAMA law to the State Records Committee if the county entities do not respond soon to his requests.

    ByBy Craig Bigler

    contributing writer

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