ST. GEORGE – The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals has dismissed an appeal over recent Bureau of Land Management resource plans.
Washington County, St. George City and the Washington County Water Conservancy District filed the appeal Feb. 23 over what officials feel is the lack of a satisfactory route for a northern corridor and inadequate utility development protocols in the resource plans.
The appeal was dismissed April 28 in an order signed by administrative judges James Roberts and Amy Sosin.
“These appeals are dismissed because we do not have jurisdiction to consider challenges to land designations,” the dismissal states. Legal challenges to BLM’s land designation in resource management plans are not within the board’s authority, the judges said.
“When and if BLM makes specific decisions implementing the RMPs’ (resource management plans’) designations of right-of-way exclusion and avoidance areas, adversely affected parties will have the opportunity to challenge those decisions, e.g., right-of-way grant application denials, before the board.”
County officials will continue pursuing their options, Deputy Washington County Attorney Celeste Maloy said.
“We aren’t going to stop working to make sure that we can bring utilities to the residents of the county, provide necessary water and plan for foreseeable future transportation needs,” Malloy said.
“We are still regularly communicating with BLM about our concerns. If they can’t solve the problems administratively, then we will focus our time and energy on the legislative and legal avenues.”
The decision was not entirely unexpected and does not signal the end of the county’s appeal process, Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox said.
“Instead, Washington County has embraced a comprehensive plan to pursue all useful avenues of redress including administrative, legislative, and the courts, if necessary,” Cox said.
Four conservation groups including the Conserve Southwest Utah, which is based in St. George, oppose any loosening of the management plans and filed motions to intervene in the appeal.
Conserve Southwest Utah President Tom Butine said the group suspects the next move on the county’s part will be federal court, but they would prefer to pursue other options.
“Rather than proceed down judicial or even legislative paths, we would much rather work with the county commissioners to understand and perhaps mitigate their concerns,” Butine said.
“We think there are practical solutions to the county’s three main issues, and we’re hoping to be able to work with them on those solutions.”
The county, city and water district are opposing resource management plans for the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash national conservation areas in Washington County. The Bureau of Land Management recently completed the plans that affect more than 100,000 acres.
Local officials believe the plans do not reflect what was promised by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, a collaborative effort between the county, municipalities, state and federal governments, and conservation groups that was intended to resolve land use conflicts in the county.
Language in the Act specified that a northern corridor through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area be designated; however, the bill’s language is vague and has been interpreted differently by the interested parties.
The appeal specifically contested the designation of large exclusion areas in the national conservation areas. Exclusion areas are not available for roads, power lines or pipelines, under any conditions and would prevent the construction of the proposed northern corridor.