SUWA slams legislature’s road funding

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is alleging that a vote during the Utah Legislature’s special session last week is aimed at moving nearly a million dollars in state gas funding from populous Salt Lake County to rural Utah’s counties to needlessly improve rural dirt roads.

During the Wednesday, July 18 special session, SUWA officials say, “the Utah Legislature passed SB2004 (substitute 1), innocuously named ‘Class B and C Road Fund Amendments.’ Designed by retiring legislators Rep. Mike Noel and Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, this ill-conceived legislation will take nearly $1 million dollars in state gas tax funds from Salt Lake County and redistribute those funds to rural counties. The bill is intended to encourage rural Utah counties to bulldoze thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails – known as “class D roads” – across federal public lands under the guise of ‘maintenance,’” SUWA said in a press release. “It also expands the amount of taxpayer dollars that will be spent on private law firms to pursue unproductive and costly RS 2477 litigation against the United States.

“SB 2004 is an amendment to class B and C road funding and essentially allows for Kane county to receive their fair share of funding,” said Grand County Council Vice Chair Curtis Wells. “Total appropriations is almost $140 million and the fiscal impact of this bill is approximately $80,000. Not a serious issue.”

While Noel described his bill as an administrative fix for a funding-allocations “glitch,” the measure was more controversial according to lobbyist David Spatafore, who represents a half-dozen Salt Lake County cities. A provision in the bill would have allowed counties to “develop” class D roads to be included in their class B and C inventories, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Said SUWA, “SB2004 (substitute 1) wrongly gives state tax dollars to rural Utah counties to bulldoze dirt roads and trails across federal public lands. The bill also clears the way for rural counties to use even more state tax dollars to pay private attorneys to pursue fruitless RS 2477 litigation — cases that have dragged on for years with no resolution in sight. At its core, this bill amounts to a misuse of taxpayer dollars to fund retiring Rep. Mike Noel’s misguided fight against the federal government,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for SUWA.

RS 2477 repealed an 1866 law that encouraged development of roads across public lands; the law was repealed in 1976 by Revised Statute 2477, which also created the Bureau of Land Management. Pre-existing road claims were grandfathered in and considered valid if entities moved to claim them within a certain number of years, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.