The San Juan County Commission has sent a letter to U.S. President Barak Obama outlining the county position on the possible unilateral designation of the Bears Ears National Monument. The letter was signed at the May 3 meeting of the Commission.
The letter states, “Such a unilateral designation would not be supported by this Commission nor would it be favorably accepted by a majority of San Juan County residents.”
“San Juan County has been actively involved the past few years in preparing a citizen’s proposal for land designations to be included in the Public Lands Initiative (PLI) sponsored by Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz.”
The letter outlines the process that the county went through in the development of the PLI, including appointing a “council of citizens from various parts of the county, representing a variety of interests, to develop a proposal. The resulting proposal was endorsed by this Commission.”
It adds that the Commission has been assured by Utah Governor Gary Herbert that the Obama administration would not make a designation while the PLI process develops, “but if such unilateral designation is considered, it would not be exercised without first involving the local citizenry in a public, transparent process including locally-held hearings.”
The full version of the letter can read online at the San Juan Record website, at www.sjrnrews.com.
County Planner Nick Sandberg expressed concern that if the county does not actively oppose the designation of a national monument using the Antiquities Act, it would be criticized for allowing the monument to go ahead unchallenged.
“I guess I don’t understand your question,” said Commissioner Rebecca Benally, “because I thought that all we were doing is in opposition [to a designation].”
“I think we need to document every aspect of our opposition,” said Commissioner Bruce Adams.
In other matters, Commissioners held a public hearing for the release of $1.8 million in lease revenue bonds to help fund the new health services facility in Blanding. The total cost of the project is estimated to be $5 million.
“We received $3 million in grant funds, including $1.5 million in a loan at 1.5 percent (bond issue), $200,000 from Mental Health, $200,000 from the Clinic, and San Juan County paid $100,000 in cash,” said County Administrator Kelly Pehrson.
The motion to release the bonds passed unanimously.
The land purchase for the new facility is moving forward. The cost of the four acres behind the Family Dollar in Blanding is approximately $233,000.
The architect for the new facility has been chosen and plans should be completed by June when the construction will be open for bid. The construction phase should last about 12 to 15 months.
The three entities which will occupy the new facility will lease the facility from the Local Building Authority to help pay off the bonds and cover maintenance costs. They include the San Juan Mental Health, San Juan Public Health and the San Juan Health Service District.
Discussion followed as to the disposition of the existing Mental Health facility. Commissioner Adams suggested that the facility might become a new home for the Blanding Senior Center. The current Senior Center facility is showing its age.
“I have had my reservations about expanding the footprint of government,” said Commissioner Phil Lyman. “I am cognizant that we are using public money that potentially could be seen as competitive with other entities, but in the long run I think everyone will benefit. The level of healthcare in San Juan County has come a long way in just a few years.”
During the Commission reports, Commissioner Adams announced that a meeting will be held on May 31 at 7 p.m. at the Monticello Senior Center. It will include attorneys from the State Public Lands and Federal land representatives.
Grazing issues will be discussed with the goal of avoiding the standoff over grazing permits that occurred in Piute County. Adams said that San Juan County grazing permits holders are encouraged to attend.
Commissioner Lyman, who recently returned from a ten-day incarceration following his conviction over the Recapture Canyon protest, said that the “road” he was convicted of riding on has now been graded/bladed all the way to the pipeline. The work was completed by the Bureau of Land Management with the help of the County Road Department.
Lyman said the BLM still refers to this “road” as the “pipeline right-of-way” and questioned why a pipeline right-of-way would need to be graded if it is not defined as a road.
Lyman has set inquiries in motion about the “road” in question, asking for an actual position on whether or not San Juan County has a road to the pipeline.
Commissioner Lyman read some of the new restrictions imposed by the BLM Supplementary Rules, including the statement that motorized or mechanized vehicular traffic is forbidden on any route trail or area that is not designated open by a BLM sign.
“We have gone from being able to go around and drive on roads without fear of prosecution to not even knowing what roads can be traversed,” said Lyman.
He posed the question, “Will the BLM be filing criminal charges against people when they drive on a county road?”
Commissioner Adams said he and Commissioner Benally attended a meeting with the San Juan County Tourism Advisory Board. He said that Advisory Board Chairman Ronnie Baird claimed the budget is substantially less than other counties.
The 2015 budget is $727,500, minus the $120,000 split between Monticello and Blanding for their tourism efforts.
When the percentage numbers the claim was based upon were questioned, Adams said the discussion became heated, and Baird expressed his frustration with the Commissioners.
Commissioner Benally said there is a “real disconnect” regarding the definition of an Advisory Board. She said the Office of Economic Development has somehow transitioned into the Tourism Advisory Board.
“I am still requesting an Economic Development plan and not from the Advisory Board, but from the Office of Economic Development,” said Benally.
“We sometimes have to make decisions on things we know little about, so we create advisory boards to advise us. Unfortunately, this advisory board is not advising us,” said Commissioner Lyman.
Commissioners agreed that there is a disconnect between the County Commission and the Office of Economic Development.
They use as evidence a new county sign in Monument Valley with the tagline: “San Juan County – Worlds Greatest Outdoor Museum.”
“This tagline says nothing about ranching, working, schools or families” said Commissioner Lyman. “I do not know where this comes from but it is an extension that we are a tourism-based economy and demonstrates that our economic development is only focused on tourism.”
Winter maintenance of the Geyser Pass road was discussed. Grand County and the U.S. Forest Service are considering a contract to maintain the San Juan County portion of the road during the winter.
Grand County will maintain the road during the winter and the Forest Service is offering to put a gate on the road and then to open or close it depending on their assessment of the condition of the San Juan County road.
Apparently, funding for this maintenance is all coming through private sources. The contract will be discussed by the Grand County Commission and San Juan County has been assured they will be included in the approval process.
“I guess the rub for me is that the Forest Service is so engaged in this whole discussion,” said Commissioner Lyman. “I am envious that the Forest Service bends over backwards to help Grand County while in San Juan County they just close the gate and tell us to come back in the spring. It is such a double standard.”
A 20-year master plan for the Cal Black Memorial Airport was discussed with Mel Leseberg of Jviation. As the airport expands to meet the needs, it is hoped that the on-site resources will begin to pay for airport operations.
“The goal is for the airport to become self sufficient,” said Leseberg.