Road access among public concerns voiced at BLM scoping meeting for proposed land sale near Virgin

Residents share their concerns about the sale of a parcel of BLM land at a public scoping meeting in Virgin, Utah, June 4, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

VIRGIN — The Bureau of Land Management St. George Field Office held a public scoping meeting on Tuesday to answer questions and hear public comment on their proposal to sell two parcels of land in Virgin and St. George.

The BLM is proposing the sale of a 70 acre parcel in the town of Virgin and a 10 acre parcel known as Mesa Palms within St. George city limits (see maps in photo gallery below).

Both parcels were identified in the St. George Resource Management Plan as available for disposal, meaning that they are difficult for the BLM to manage or would be better managed by other agencies – or in this case, a private party.

The BLM is currently undergoing the National Environmental Policy Act review process, which involves performing an environmental assessment study to verify that the decision will have no significant environmental effects.

The St. George parcel, located north of Tonaquint Drive and west of Mesa Palms Drive, was identified as a piece to dispose of in a 2013 NEPA document. The parcel failed to sell at that point, but BLM St. George field manager Keith Rigtrup said the 2013 document has been reviewed and they have found no conditions of change, so they will not need to perform another NEPA review on the land.

“It’s in the middle of development,” Rigtrup said. “It’s right next to houses, it’s isolated. We can’t manage it at all and so it would be better off in private hands.”

As part of the NEPA process, BLM is asking for public comment regarding the proposal in hopes to learn about the parcels from community members as well as address their concerns and issues raised.

“The NEPA process is about getting good information. So we’re asking for the public’s input, what they know about the parcels, or their concerns, or their resource issues,” Rigtrup said.

St. George Field Manager Keith Rigtrup, left, answers questions about the sale of BLM owned property in Virgin, Utah, June 4, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

When the BLM sells a parcel of land, they are able to keep that money in their district to purchase other lands. The office has a list of lands that they would like to acquire, among them are areas within the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam national conservation areas and many of the designated wilderness areas.

Currently there are no specific pieces of land that the BLM would like to purchase if they choose to sell the two parcels in question. The funds from the sales would instead go into their general purchasing fund to be used at a later date.

If the land passes the NEPA review, it would be appraised and then put up for public auction for private parties to bid on. Once the appraisal price is met, the land would go to the highest bidder.

If a land parcel is within city limits, whoever purchases the land will be subject to town zoning.

BLM identified the parcel near Virgin as one to sell because it has also been difficult to manage. It is also already partially developed, with Kolob Road passing through it and a BMX track that was placed there through a Recreation of Public Purposes Act lease to the town.

The Virgin parcel was the main focus of discussion Tuesday, with some Virgin residents expressing concerns about the land falling under private ownership. One of their biggest concerns collectively has to do with losing access to the BLM land located above the parcel.

The public gathered at a meeting to learn about the sale of BLM owned property in Virgin, Utah, June 4, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

“If the land is owned privately then we will have no way to get to the land above it,” Virgin resident Mark Savee said.

BLM Realty Specialist Shawnna Dao said that while they would have to consult the state BLM office, they have considered a few solutions to the issue of access. One solution is for people to drive several miles around the sold parcel.

The other options includes establishing a right of way in the contract prior to selling the parcel, allowing access on one of the roads leading to the BMX track and through to the other side.

A similar right of way could be established for other residents, who are concerned about drainage issues into their property should the land no longer be owned by the BLM.

Kent Peterson, a landowner of property bordering a parcel of land that the BLM has proposed to sell, writes a comment to submit at a meeting in Virgin, Utah, June 4, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

“There’s flooding that comes down off of these washes into my property,” Diane Peterson, whose property borders the BLM parcel, told St. George News. “In the past the BLM has allowed me to rebuild a dike that had been there for years. Once this turns into private land, I’m unable to protect myself from the water that comes from the upper BLM down into my property, and into the city streets, and into some other people’s property as well.”

Once the comment period has come to an end on June 19, BLM officials will review the comments and then draft the environmental assessment. They will put that assessment out for additional public comments before they make a decision.

“There’s quite a few more steps before it could actually get up to a sale, but this is just the NEPA process which is the first hurdle to get through,” Rigtrup said.

The public is invited to comment and view more information on the proposal by visiting the BLM ePlanning webpage. The comment period will be open until June 19.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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