Hatch bill would force BLM to scrap resource plans, start over

Composite image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A bill introduced in Congress by Sen. Orrin Hatch would throw out recently completed resource management plans for Washington County’s two national conservation areas and require the Bureau of Land Management to restart the planning process.

In this file photo, the draft version of resource management plans for Washington County’s two national conservation areas and the BLM St. George Field Office resource management plan comprise 1,100 pages | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News

“A court-ordered deadline for publishing RMPs (resource management plans) resulted in BLM rushing its plans from the start, cutting out local voices in the implementation process,” Hatch said in a written statement.

The resource management plans govern more than 100,000 acres of public land in Washington County and stirred heated debate during the public comment period that ended last fall.

The plans were released in late December, just days before a court-ordered deadline.

County officials protested the BLM’s proposed final management plans in October, saying that progress had been made but areas of concern remained, including a proposed northern corridor across the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

Read more: BLM and public lands: Officials offer mixed reviews of proposed resource management plans

“Affected stakeholders are upset. The RMPs not only fail to meet the needs of Washington County; they also present significant problems for the rapidly growing community,” Hatch said.

“These RMPs will have lasting effects on people’s lives in one of the fastest growing areas in the country,” he said, “That’s why we need to rethink this process and get it right. This legislation will send BLM back to the drawing board, paving the way for a reinvigorated proposal that will take into account local perspectives.”

The bill, introduced May 4 on the floor of the Senate and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, directs the BLM to restart the resource management planning process for the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area in Washington County.

The proposed legislation would require the secretary of the Interior to not implement the recently completed resource management plans for the two national conservation areas and also throw out an amendment to the St. George Field Office Resource Management Plan.

Local concerns

The legislation is supported by the Washington County Commission, Washington County Water Conservancy District and St. George City officials, Hatch said.

Twist Hollow in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, photo undated | Photo by John Kellam, Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

Local officials’ concerns focus on the lack of a designation for a proposed northern corridor and inadequate utility protocols, Deputy Washington County Attorney Celeste Maloy said.

“The county, St. George City, and the Washington County Water Conservancy District have worked for nearly two years with the local BLM office to try to fix the resource management plans for the two national conservation areas in Washington County,” Maloy said. “We have pursued every avenue.”

“We filed an appeal with the IBLA (Interior Board of Land Appeals), and we have also been working with our federal delegation to find solutions. This bill calling for the BLM to start over o the resource management plans shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.”

The county, water district and St. George City filed an appeal Feb. 23 with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals. The appeal was dismissed April 28.

Read more: County appeal over northern corridor dismissed by board

“In January of 2016, when we had a House Natural Resources Committee oversight field hearing here in St. George on the resource management plans,” Maloy said, “Congressman Rob Bishop told the BLM that the only way to fix the plans would be to throw out the alternatives that they had written and start over.”

A desert tortoise browses in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Washington County, Utah, photo undated | Photo by John Kellam, courtesy of Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

Hatch’s bill would force the BLM to do just that – throw out the alternatives that were released in 2015 and start over.

“It would have been easier and less costly to fix the alternatives in 2015, but we never got them to the point that the county felt like the alternatives fit the intent of the Washington County Lands bill from 2009,” she said.

Proposed legislation

The bill, designated S. 1053, was introduced by Sen. Hatch and cosponsored by Sen. Mike Lee.

The proposed legislation doesn’t have an official title yet, but is described as “a bill to require the Secretary of the Interior to issue new resource management plans applicable to the Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area and the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area and a new amendment to the St. George Field Office Resource Management Plan, and for other purposes.”

Rep. Chris Stewart is planning to introduce a similar bill in the U.S. House of Representatives in the coming weeks, according to Stewart spokeswoman Daryn Frischknecht said.

Although the text of the proposed legislation has not yet been published on the official Congressional website as of May 15, an early version of the bill obtained from Sen. Hatch’s office directs the BLM to not implement or enforce the recently released resource management plans and to issue new plans that are prepared:

(A) in accordance with the requirements for management plans established under subtitle O of title I of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (Public Law 111–11; 123 Stat. 1075); and

(B) in coordination with affected units of local government, in accordance with section 202(c)(9) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1712(c)(9)).

BLM Color Country District spokesman Christian Venhuizen declined to comment about the proposed legislation and said BLM’s policy is to wait until after a bill becomes law before making any comment.

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  • Brian May 15, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    Good! The northern corridor options proposed by the BLM are a joke! They pretend to play nice but their proposals are completely malicious.

    Seriously, a road going from IFA north, across the face of Pine Valley, then down to Silver Reef and tying into I-15? Who, exactly, is that for? No one! It’s meant only to throw a monkey-wrench in the gears of the process and detract from the only viable northern corridor solution (the option that goes from half way between highway 18 and Pioneer Park, right by the cut in the hill by the old dam, and head straight east, tying into the top of Green Springs and the new Washington exit. Tons of people would use that to go east and west, removing congestion from in town, and making life much easier for people going east and west for work.

    Sometimes all you can do is start over, and this is one of those times.

  • wilbur May 16, 2017 at 8:12 am

    .

    The ONLY reason for a “Northern Corridor”?

    Developers!

    • Brian May 16, 2017 at 8:40 am

      The reason for a northern corridor is common sense. I don’t care if they build the road and keep it zoned for zero development of any kind (just like Pioneer Parkway between Pioneer Park and SR-18). The road make sense.

      If you live on the northwest side of St. George (Ivins, Kayenta, Green Valley, Southwind, Santa Clara, anything up SR-18) and you want to go to anything on the east side of the county (Hurricane, the fair grounds, DMV, Wal-mart distribution center, or even closer things like Costco) which way would you rather go? Option 4 of the northern corridor is the only route that makes sense. The current route (along Pioneer Parkway and the Middleton frontage road) is fine for now, but will get far more congested as time goes on (sorry, growth is going to happen whether we like it or not), and still feeds you into the Washington exit, which is one of the busiest intersections in southern Utah.

      I agree those in charge in Washington County are WAY too focused on growth at all costs *cough* Powell Pipeline *cough*, and I definitely think there is a lot of personal profit motive driving that. But we still have to plan for some growth, because its unavoidable.

      So I’d say the ONLY reasons to oppose some sort of northern corridor is because you’re irrationally anti-growth (ie. want zero growth), rabidly environmentalist, or just plain short sighted.

      • wilbur May 16, 2017 at 4:44 pm

        .

        So it is o.k. to welsch on the tortoise preserve, carve new raods that will be followed up by Millionaire view mansions, and, in the end, still have inadequate surface transport infrastructure?

        People have been chasing this rabbit for a long time; you never win.

        Only the land developers make out.

    • DRT May 16, 2017 at 8:55 am

      Be that as it may, we know that the developers are here to stay. Much as some of us might like to, we can’t stop them. So we are going to have to contend with growth. With growth, comes increased traffic congestion. And it’s already much worse than most of us like.
      Let’s do what we can to alleviate as much of the problems as we can. Anyone who has any type of commute knows what a mess we have to deal with on a daily basis.

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