Commission opposes oil and gas lease sale

The San Juan County Commission opposed a letter of support for a proposed September 2020 oil and gas lease sale on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The action occurred on July 7 in an electronic Commission meeting that was disrupted by poor audio.

Commissioner Willie Grayeyes expressed concern that the areas proposed for the oil and gas lease sale have not been studied for cultural resources and fears the land will be impacted.

Public Lands Coordinator Nick Sandberg said that if the lease holders want to develop the lease, the BLM would require a site-specific analysis before there would be any impact on the ground.

Grayeyes said the land will be impacted whether or not a well is drilled. “There is a trick to every process with the BLM,” said Grayeyes. “No matter how you look at it, there will be a disturbance.”

Commissioner Bruce Adams supported the sale, stating, “Because the leasing will not disturb the ground, I see no reason to oppose the leasing. It brings revenue. After the lease is purchased, then a study will be completed.”

Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy voted to oppose the letter, stating, “After the lease is sold, it would be very unlikely that the BLM will tell the leaser that they will not be able to drill.”

The vote was 2-1 against a letter, with Adams opposing.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Amanda Podmore had urged Commissioners to oppose the sale.

In other matters at the July 7 meeting, Commissioners submitted a letter opposed to a request by Energy Fuels to modify a discharge permit at the White Mesa Uranium Mill.

The request, to the Utah Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control, would allow the mill to accept more alternative feed material, including 22 tons of uranium from Estonia.

The letter states that the county is “concerned about the long-term effects of such an operation…”

The item failed to advance during the scheduled portion of the meeting when Commissioner Grayeye’s motion did not receive a second.

Later, Grayeyes recalled the item back to the floor. It was seconded by Maryboy and passed 2-1, with Adams opposing.

“Tse Nizhoni Stellar Arch” is the name recommended by Commissioners for an arch on extremely isolated land north of Beef Basin.

The Commission was responding to a request to name the arch Stellar Arch, a request which was submitted to the United States Board of Geographic Names.

The applicant, Ronald Blekicki of Colorado Springs, CO said he discovered the arch in 1993.

The arch is on land administered by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). It is within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.

When the request was brought to the Commission in June, Commissioner Grayeyes said he would like input from the tribes, stating “the Navajo and other tribes were in that area for many, many years.”

Grayeyes said he solicited input from the Navajo Nation, Ute Tribe, and local chapters, but received no response.

Grayeyes recommended keeping the requested name, but inserting Tse Nizhoni, meaning Beautiful Rock in Navajo.

The federal office will make the final determination on the name.

The Commission discussed the distribution of $729,365 in CARES Act funding for the county.

The municipalities of Bluff, Blanding, and Monticello will receive funds, in addition to the Navajo Nation Chapters and Ute Tribe.

County Administrator Mack McDonald added there may be another round of CARES Act funding in August.

The proposed distribution includes funds for senior meals, radio communications, general communication expenses, phone systems, and lost wages.

It includes $45,000 for administration and $250,000 in grants to county businesses.

McDonald said the funding has restrictions and adds, “It is not COVID that is severely impacting the county as much as the impact of COVID.”

San Juan County will be using a new telephone service provider that will cost $675 a month. McDonald said the county currently pays Frontier Communications $11,000 a month for phone service, and “there are significant problems.”

Road Supervisor Todd Adair updated the Commission on bridge projects in Recapture and McElmo canyons.

Contracts on the projects should be awarded by October, but Adair said the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) fears there will be “considerable cost overruns” with the bids.

UDOT started work to rebuild the Jason Workman Memorial Bridge on July 6. The bridge spans the San Juan River at Mexican Hat. There will be alternating traffic at the bridge during the construction phase, which will take several months to complete.

Commissioners approved the State of Utah Aging Contract for the next four years, in addition to extending caregiver contracts with Rocky Mountain, Zions Way, Home Watch Caregivers, and Comfort At Home Care.

Lee’s Smoking Hot BBQ received a beer license. The new establishment is on 1445 South Main Street on Highway 191, south of Blanding.

Commissioners approved a nine-lot Sunset Meadows subdivision on Browns Canyon Road south of Blanding.

The Commission approved a number of items on the consent agenda, including a summer food service contract with Utah Department of Health, the purchase of a 2020 Ford Explorer for the public health department, a grant that will be used for improved WIFI at county libraries, and a contract for consulting services for a runway rehabilitation project at Cal Black Memorial Airport.

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