State fund may be used for Recapture Canyon defense

A committee of the Utah State Legislature has approved the use of up to $100,000 in state funds for legal costs related to the May, 2014 Recapture Canyon protest.
By a 6-2 vote on June 22, the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands authorized a legal analysis of the process that resulted in San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman’s conviction in federal court.
The Constitutional Defense Council (CDC) will complete the analysis, and dependent upon the results, up to $100,000 could be used for an appeal of the conviction or other action.
The action essentially means that the State of Utah may have a state’s right issue with the conviction of an elected official in a federal court.
While describing the state’s action, Lyman said, “The Constitutional Defense Council has not decided to fund ‘my appeal.’ No decision has been made whether or not an appeal is even possible.
“What the State has determined is that this is not simply a San Juan County issue, or a Phil Lyman issue. The first step is for the CDC to allocate some resources and then to proceed in the direction that will best serve the interests of the citizens of Utah and of San Juan County.”
Federal misdemeanor charges were filed against Commissioner Lyman and four local residents several months after the protest. After a four-day jury trial in May, 2015, Lyman and Monticello resident Monte Wells were convicted of two charges. Sentencing is scheduled for July 15, 2015 before Federal Judge Robert Shelby.
Charges were dismissed against one defendant and the other two were found not guilty.
Testimony in the trial was limited to specific information about the events of May, 2014. The judge did not allow testimony about the legality of the Recapture Canyon closure.
It is anticipated that the legality of the BLM closure will be the focus of the CDC analysis.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ordered a “temporary” closure of Recapture Canyon to motorized vehicles in 2007 after it was discovered that unauthorized roadwork had been completed on ATV trails in the canyon. The closure has remained in effect since that time, despite attempts by San Juan County and other local officials to find a solution.
Seven years later, local frustration with the prolonged closure of the canyon boiled over when the May 10, 2014 protest was organized.
Several hundred people joined a protest rally in Blanding and more than 100 drove to the closure sign at the northern end of Recapture Canyon. The majority of these vehicles crossed the closure boundary and moved into the closed area for nearly a mile along the pipeline maintenance road.
Attorneys for the defendants argued in court that the San Juan Water Conservancy District, which holds a right-of-way for the maintenance road, gave permission for protesters to use the road.
After the group traveled to the end of the maintenance road, the majority turned around and left the canyon. Approximately 50 ATVs continued through portions of the canyon on the closed road.
It has been reported that the BLM estimates that the protest ride did approximately $400,000 in damage to resources in the canyon. After the 2007 closure, the BLM estimated that the unauthorized work caused $350,000 in damage. A federal administrative court fined two Blanding men $35,000 for the damage, which was ten percent of the estimated damage.
Lyman added, “This is a legitimate fight, and it is rightfully the State’s fight. Utah has formed the Constitutional Defense Council, the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands, the Public Lands Coordinating Office, and other committees and organizations whose objective has been to provide direction on jurisdictional conflicts related to Statehood.
“Representative Noel has been active in the Recapture event from its inception. He has recognized that the object of the protest was not a few miles of road next to Blanding, but a pattern of lawlessness on the part of a federal agency with a penchant for domination.”

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