Commissioners approve Spanish Valley fire plan, update public lands plan

by Katie Boyle
Staff writer
The San Juan County Commission discussed fire protection in Spanish Valley, RV campsites at the county fairgrounds, and an update to a public lands plan at their latest meeting.
Members of the San Juan County Commission approved a renewal of the interlocal agreement with the Moab Valley Fire District at their meeting on June 7.
The renewal was approved unanimously by Commissioner Bruce Adams and Commissioner Willie Grayeyes. Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy did not attend the meeting.
The contract approval means the Spanish Valley area will continue to be served by the Moab Valley Fire District at the same cost as previous service, for at least the next two years.
The renewal of the contract was a topic of discussion at the end of 2021, when the proposed cost of the contract was set to nearly double.
The agreement has previously been based on tax revenue. With increased growth in Spanish Valley and matching rises in property taxes, the previous structure of payment would have seen rates nearly double to $80,000 annually for the county to pay for protection services.
County staff and the Moab Valley Fire District met and the contract was negotiated to remain at $46,000 annually for the service.
Spanish Valley is the only area in San Juan County not covered by a volunteer fire department. Part of the lastest contract is preparing for an eventual exit by the county, with the Moab Valley Fire District set to train the four volunteers for the Spanish Valley area.
County Commissioner Willie Grayeyes asked if the volunteer department will be operational in two years.
County Fire Chief David Gallegos said they hope so. “When you’re dealing with voulnteers you have to consider their time because we don’t pay them for them taking time off from their jobs so we will try and get them trained.”
County Administrator Mack McDonald reports that the county is ready to take over once volunteers are in place.
“There’s a facility that we can lease right now, we have the equipment the engines ready to go but there was a lot of hesitancy and concern from the public about us taking on our own without having properly trained firefighters. This will get us to that point.”
The county plans to eventually build a community center on property near the intersection of Spanish Valley Drive and Old Airport Road.
The campus would include a community center with space for an ambulance, search and rescue and sheriff services, as well as a permanent fire station.
“Its always been the intent that one day San Juan County takes this over and does this like we do (in the) rest of the county,” said McDonald. “So stay tuned, we’ll be heading that direction but for right now we certainly appreciate Moab Valley Fire District for their support and their efforts.”
The county commission also heard about several projects from Economic Development Director Elaine Gizler.
Gizler explained her office received a $70,000 Utah Outdooor Recreation Grant to build 18 campground spots at the County Fairgrounds.
“Since we didn’t get the events center funding that we wanted to move forward, we’ll have to look at putting things out there at the event center in stages,” said Gizler.
“The first would be to put in these camp spots that would be used during the fair and any other event that would be located out at the fairgrounds.”
County staff proposes fencing off the campsites to not allow use outside of events.
Commissioner Bruce Adams pointed out that there are occasions where people hauling livestock use the county fairgrounds to house animals as they travel through the county.
County staff agreed that there could be specific situations where the county could offer rental of the units if those services for livestock haulers aren’t offered elsewhere in the county.
McDonald explained the county does not want to compete with local RV parks. 
“We’d never want to be in a position where we undercut their services and what they provide already. If this is for those specific events, and specific rentals. Right now they’re using the location and they’re dumping gray water out on the ground. By having this service here it’ll help us.”
The commission accepted award of the grant. Approval of pricing for rentals and other polices will come at a later date.
The award requires matching funds from the county. Gizler said those funds would be a part of her office budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
At the meeting, the commission also approved awarding two scholarships to county residents.
The two $1,500 scholarships are part of the county’s Rural Grant Funding which came from the Governor’s Office of Economic development.
The San Juan County Community Economic Development Committee reviewed eight applications of recent high school graduates. Scholarships were ultimately awarded to Dayhenoa Yazzie of Monument Valley High School and Brett James of Whitehorse High School.
The commission also approved a contract not to exceed $15,000 for grant writing for the county. Gizler explained the company Latigic has been successful in bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the county in the past.
“We really need to unearth more grants that we can bring in to help the county and help our local businesses,” said Gizler.
The commission also heard from County Public Lands Coordinator Nick Sandberg regarding a required update to the county resource management plan.
Sandberg explained the county first adopted a resource management plan in 2017 as required by the state legislature.
The resource management plan is a document that informs the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service on how the county would like to see those public lands managed.
An update to all county plans has been required by the state, with a deadline of the end of the summer. Part of the requirement is to include policies for utility corridors and pipeline and infrastructure.
Sandberg explained county staff are working on a draft to update the county plan where needed. Finalization of the plan will require public hearings and approvals from the planning commission and the county commission.
Some proposed changes in the draft includes emphasizing safe and equitable access including tradition and cultural access to public lands. The draft also proposes under the mineral header adding a section on critical minerals and Rare Earth Elements and importance for national and economic security.
The commission also approved a declaration of a drought emergency in San Juan County. The designation opens up federal funding for farmers and ranchers.
The Commission also approved a bid to lease a county-owned airport hangar at the Monticello Airport. The agreement was approved at a monthly lease rate of $425 a month.

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