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Moab, UT

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    Local officials and planners are asking for community input on Grand County’s Resource Management Plan (RMP), a state-mandated amendment to the general plan that will identify local preferences for 28 different environmental, cultural, and economic resources within the county. On the website — grandrmp.org — community members can find available data as well as five-minute surveys on the 28 resources, which range from water and air quality to recreation and mining.

    Springville-based planning group Rural Community Consultants is managing the website, gathering local data, and helping draft Grand County’s plan. The company was hired for the job using $50,000 in state-allocated funds, county officials have said.

    “Our goal gives Grand County a clear voice on where they’re at for 28 issues,” said Mike Hansen, a principal with the group. “Ultimately it’s the county’s plan.”

    Although the state mandates a county-driven plan, since the bill’s final adoption in 2016, it has faced criticism as a resource inventory related to some legislators’ desire to take over federal lands.

    During an open house on Feb. 8, Hansen acknowledged that the state mandate “rubs some people sideways” because it asks counties to define management objectives for many resources on public lands.

    He noted that RMPs for agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service , which have jurisdiction over public lands, are “extensive” and “super detailed.”

    “The state Legislature is saying that all counties need to do the same thing for a lot of resources within the county’s boundary, whether they have jurisdiction or not,” Hansen said. “I know that rubs a lot of people sideways. You’re not alone. That’s a political conversation still going on all over the place.”

    Although the resulting resource management plan may have future political implications, Grand County officials, as well as local representatives from federal agencies, say that the community can still benefit from participating in the land planning process.

    “I have said from the outset that Grand County stands to benefit from creating an RMP irrespective of the larger statewide conversation regarding the ownership of lands currently managed by federal agencies,” said Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine.

    Levine said that the county “has already benefited” from this legislation, specifically with a resource database compiled by the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments.

    “The database includes virtually all of the publicly available data covering each of the 28 resource topics … and cites a great number of code references where each topic is discussed via planning, management objectives, or management policies,” Levine said.

    Local resident Ashley Korenblat, who has been active in land planning through her nonprofit group Public Land Solutions, said she hopes the county will gain something from this process in spite of its political undertones.

    “The county RMP’s were initiated just in case the state is able to take over the federal lands, so this particular planning process is politically charged,” Korenblat said. She called the state’s hopes to take over federal lands “financially irresponsible.” However, she added that her hope is “that the county plans will be useful as a cooperative tool with the BLM.”

    According to its local representatives, the BLM is viewing county RMPs as exactly that — a way to look at natural resources across administrative boundaries.

    “BLM coordinates with counties on important decisions and a better understanding of their views will be helpful in future planning; to that end these resource management plans will be very useful,” said Canyon Country District Manager Lance Porter.

    Canyon Country District spokesperson Lisa Bryant said the BLM has already coordinated with local counties throughout the county RMP process, giving them access to federal information.

    “We have provided maps, data, and information regarding federal land management regulations that counties may find helpful, and have offered to assist in reviews if requested,” Bryant said.

    Ultimately however, in order to create a credible and useful plan, the public must provide input, Levine said.

    Hansen, whose firm is also drafting RMPs for 10 other counties, called Grand County the most engaged. However, he said he is concerned that “planning fatigue” might have set in across the state, referencing the recent and demanding work spent on Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI), which failed in Congress after two years of community engagement.

    “Thirty people at an open house in Grand County is not much,” Hansen said regarding the recent Moab event.

    But he said the county RMP is very different than the PLI process, adding that the resulting document will actually become part of Grand County’s general plan and could influence resource management decisions in the future.

    “It’s a good starting point, a baseline for the future instead of a halfway finished PLI,” Hansen said. “This document is part of the county’s general plan, just like affordable housing and transportation.”

    Noting that Rural Community Consultants is currently “harvesting ideas,” Hansen is encouraging community members to participate in the resource surveys, which are available on the website. The five-minute surveys allow local residents to weigh in on each of the 28 local resources, as well as identify any issues with the compiled data.

    “Everybody in Grand County has their own opinion, so we want to gather as much opinion through our public survey on our website,” Hansen said. “ … If it gets adopted, it’s the word of the county. It’s not just the council members’ opinion.”

    According to the state law, the county council must adopt the RMP policy as part of its general plan by August, after which it will be folded into a statewide plan during the Utah Legislatures 2018 general session.

    Hansen said survey data will be gathered until March 6. For more information, and to take the surveys, visit: grandrmp.org.

    ByBy Molly Marcello

    The Times-Independent

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