San Juan Commission neutral on Bluff deannexation, talks Elk Meadows noise complaints, broadband plan
by David Boyle
Members of the San Juan County Commission discussed a proposed Bluff annexation, noise complaints in Elk Meadows, and a local broadband plan at their latest meeting.
At the September 5 meeting, the Commission received an update on a recently completed local broadband plan.
County Administrator Mack McDonald explained the State of Utah created a broadband internet connection plan for the entire state. As part of that plan, San Juan County secured a $50,000 grant to create a plan to connect San Juan County residents to broadband internet, including residents on tribal reservations.
County and state officials met with Navajo Nation Chapters and the Ute Mountain Ute leadership in White Mesa to make plans and discuss needs.
McDonald said Emery Telcom, along with Utah Education and Telehealth Network (UETN), are currently working on fiber optics that goes to Mexican Hat, with plans to continue to Oljato and then to Navajo Mountain.
The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) is working on connections to Aneth and Montezuma Creek, but McDonald noted that the other Navajo Nation chapters and the Ute tribe are currently left behind.
The San Juan County local broadband plan not only identifies current plans to bring broadband connection to rural parts of San Juan County, but also estimates the cost to make the connections.
McDonald explained the plan lays out the path to bring broadband connections throughout the county and provides the needed information to seek state and federal funds to make those connections possible.
McDonald also highlighted a conference with representatives from the state of Utah, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, NTUA and the office for Navajo Nation Broadband. McDonald said an office with two people is in charge of broadband connections for all 128 Navajo Nation chapters.
“I told her look at us as an extension of you,” said McDonald. “We can help you out for the Utah portion. If you’ll give us letters of support so when it comes time for funding requests we’d appreciate those because that’s what’s needed for funding requests.”
Conversations with other tribal leaders also gave the county clarity and connections to move forward with a plan to bring broadband connections to the entire county.
Members of the commission also considered a resolution supporting Bluff’s current municipal boundaries and opposing the disconnect petition currently before the town council.
McDonald explained the resolution was on the agenda for consideration after he was approached by Bluff Mayor Ann Leppanen.
The Town of Bluff received a petition to disconnect 9,500 acres from the town, located to the northwest of the developed areas of Bluff and mostly on the bluff bench.
Members of the Bluff Town Council held a public hearing on August 15 for the petition to disconnect and has 45 days from that hearing to make a decision.
A Bluff Town staff report notes that the 9,500 acres make up 40 percent of Bluff’s total incorporated boundaries. Of the 9,500 acres, 640 are made up of privately owned property, with 7,370 acres managed by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), 1,338 acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and 166 acres belonging to St. Christopher’s Mission.
The petition was discussed for more than two hours at the August 14 public hearing, and coverage of that meeting is published in the August 23 edition of the San Juan Record.
At the September 5 meeting, members of the county commission heard from representatives of the Town of Bluff and SITLA.
SITLA area manager Brian Torgerson asked the commission to not pass the resolution and stay neutral on the petition to disconnect.
“The Bluff City limits are huge, considering the size of the town. It’s as big as West Valley City, as big as Ogden. I think they knew it was really big when they started it and it was probably going to need to be adjusted to meet what they can services. They don’t provide services to the property up on the bench.”
SITLA currently is working on a lease agreement to bring a solar power project to property within the disconnect area above the bench, and has no other active projects in the petition area at this time. Torgerson added
“(SITLA is) exempt from local ordinances but we like to work with local ordinances if we can. We just feel the path forward is a lot clearer through the county. That’s why we’re looking to disconnect. The path forward within Bluff is very convoluted.”
Bluff council member Jim Sayers also spoke at the commission meeting asking for support of the resolution.
Sayers says the town knows the boundaries are large but that it’s intentional.
“We are attempting to protect a vital aquifer. We get groundwater in Bluff and it’s only from one aquifer.”
Sayers added that the town has never had a request for development from the private property and that the Town of Bluff has worked with SITLA in the past.
“The land that is being sought to be disconnected by SITLA and a private party is land that is some of the very limited lands that is available for development in Bluff. It’s a huge area that they want to disconnect: 9,514 acres.”
Commission member Sylvia Stubbs shared she spent a lot of time thinking about the issue and weighing both sides and decided she could not support the resolution, saying she wishes to remain neutral on the issue.
Commission member Jamie Harvey offered his support of the resolution, noting that the Town of Bluff has had the petition area in its boundaries for the past six years.
“It’s being respectful of a government that’s been exercising its authority for more than five years.” Harvey added “I think there’s a valuable lesson for SITLA here, It needs to listen to the people, the residents. If SITLA is not listening, when will it listen? So, I’d like to give the opportunity for the Town of Bluff to be heard.”
Harvey motioned to approve the resolution, but no second was given on the motion.
Wrapping up the conversation, Commissioner Bruce Adams concluded “The motion dies for lack of a second, so I guess we’re neutral.”
In other Bluff-related news, members of the commission appointed Melissa Rigg to represent the Bluff area on the San Juan County Planning and Zoning Commission.
Members of the commission also heard from several residents in the Elk Meadows subdivision, north of Monticello, requesting an enforceable nuisance ordinance.
Elk Meadows resident Joe Mellen shared that his family has heard loud music blasting from a neighbor's house starting between 7 and 8 a.m. on multiple mornings.
Mellen said he spoke with a sheriff’s deputy who then went to the neighbors, who chose not to turn down the music. Mellen said without a noise ordinance, “the sheriff’s department has no way to enforce the peace. Please expedite a nuisance or noise ordinance to keep the peace.”
Two other Elk Meadows residents echoed the request for a county noise ordinance to allow sheriff’s deputies to enforce noise requirements. Commissioner Adams asked county staff to look into options for the commission.
“I think there’s more than a serious problem out there and the people that are causing the problem don’t seem to want to be helpful,” said Adams. “When that happens you have to look for a legislative solution for peace and tranquility for people.”
Members of the commission also approved the purchase of transfer bins at the new Aneth Transfer Station. The bins help position the county to participate in the Aneth transfer station. County Landfill Operations Manager Jed Tate estimated 30 to 60 days until the transfer station could be ready to operate.
A contract for pick-up services with Aneth will come before the commission in the future.
During commission reports, Commissioner Bruce Adams requested county staff draft a letter to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding the Bears Ears National Monument advisory committee.
Adams said it is very appropriate for San Juan County to participate as a cooperating agency in the planning stages of the Bears Ears National Monument, he didn’t see why Grand County would also be listed as a cooperating agency.
“We as a commission can handle the cooperating agency designation without Grand County,” said Adams.
Commissioners Harvey and Stubbs gave their verbal support of the request.