Blanding City Council addresses Bears Ears issues
by Kara Laws
The designation of Bears Ears National Monument on December 28, 2016 was a main topic of discussion at the January 10 meeting of the Blanding City Council.
Councilman Robert Ogle and City Manger Jeremy Redd presented a draft press release about the newly designated monument. According to Redd, the release featured three main points: 1) the city council opposes the national monument designation, 2) Blanding city residents will continue to do their best with what they have, and 3) Blanding will continue to welcome visitors, as it has always done.
Councilman Ogle expressed his desire for the press release to “have teeth” and encouraged the council to make it apparent that the City of Blanding does not support the monument.
Councilman Joe B. Lyman, however, said he believed the press release should be softer and more inviting.
Mayor Calvin Balch expressed his concern that the city council might be trying to speak for the whole of the city when not everyone is against the monument.
“I don’t think there are 200 cars in Blanding that have the no monument sticker,” said Mayor Balch. He pressed for a change in the language to ensure the city council is not speaking for every resident, but only for the city council.
Mayor Balch added, “We have a responsibility to represent all of the people – one hundred percent. We have a responsibility to everyone else.”
The council consented and agreed to change the press release, so it would not speak for every resident of Blanding but would be the opinion of the council. However, that is where most agreement ended.
Ogle urged the city to “take a stand” and speak out. Councilman Taylor Harrison agreed, acknowledging the Presidential decision overlooked what local and state officials were asking for. Harrison made it clear that he does not believe this story is over yet.
Mayor Balch suggested that only “two or three” cattle ranchers would be impacted by the designation and that nothing of consequence had happened in Escalante, UT since the designation of the Grand Staircase National Monument in 1996.
When Harrison said, “1.3 million acres is going to affect more than just three cattle ranchers,” the mayor disagreed.
There are 43 grazing allotments and 661 mineral allotments within the Bears Ears National Monument. While the process of developing a monument management plan will take years to complete, the designation could have significant impacts throughout the area, including canyoneering, trail guides, hunting guides, trappers, photographers, gravel pit owners, loggers, mill workers, hunter, wood cutters, herb gatherers and more.
Members of the Blanding Area Travel Council expressed concern that residents of Blanding might become hostile toward tourists. Business owner Jared Barrett said he would like to see local businesses, especially the tourism businesses, take advantage of the designation and benefit from it.
After discussion and questions by local residents, City Manager Jeremy Redd said the city will forward information on what will or will not change in in the monument as the city receives it.
Two other residents spoke to the city council, sharing facts about the monument, discussing how it will impact them personally, and encouraging the council to speak out.
Others asked the council to not allow a monument to influence a change in Blanding City liquor laws, to welcome tourism instead, and to help give local people and businesses a direction to move.
Councilwoman Perkins said Blanding City no longer has a Chamber of Commerce. She suggested that any businesses who are worried, would like to pull together, or would like to take advantage of the monument should talk to the San Juan County Chamber of Commerce.
The press release was tabled for further discussion at the January 24 meeting of the city council.
In other business, the city is deciding on projects for upcoming years. City Manager Redd gave the council several options in a work session meeting and suggested they start coming up with what they would like to see happen in the city.
The Wellness Center was brought up, with ideas to expand the center or build an indoor pool. (See the separate story here.)
County and state fire officials, Heber Heyder and Jason Johnson, gave an update on fire suppression efforts. Header said 2016 was an easy fire year, with the largest fire for Blanding City being 46 acres on a wheat field north of town.
Johnson congratulated Blanding on being the first city in the area to adopt the new fire policy. Johnson made it clear that Blanding was not transferring all responsibility to the state with the new fire policy.
By adopting the fire policy, Blanding agrees to do their part to prevent fire, while receiving a financial cushion from the state. Johnson said Blanding is responsible for their fire prevention efforts.
The council has approved a letter of support for the Blanding Irrigation Company to install a new line above Dry Wash Reservoir to pull more water into area reservoirs.
The City of Blanding trades water with the Blanding Irrigation Company. City officials said, “Any project that can transport more water to reservoirs in our area is a major investment in the future viability of our community.”
The sewer system upgrade east of town will continue as planned and will provide some relief for the already overcrowded sewer system.
Mayor Balch mentioned that three council positions will be on the 2017 ballot, including two council members and the mayorship. More information can be found at blanding.ut.gov.