Sand Mountain, OHV paradise or luxury development? 2 sides to proposed land exchange

A stake marks the border of land slated to be part of the proposed Sand Hollow land exchange, July 11, 2014 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

WASHINGTON COUNTY – Within the last seven months, a group of concerned local citizens formed the Utah Public Lands Alliance, an organization whose mission is “preserving public lands for public use” and whose main concern (and the impetus behind its establishment) is a proposed 1,200-acre land swap on Sand Mountain, a place it calls “Your OHV Paradise” on its fliers.

View of a section of the property included in the proposed Sand Hollow land exchange, July 11, 2014 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News
View of a section of the property included in the proposed Sand Hollow land exchange, July 11, 2014 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News | Click on photo to enlarge

To UPLA President Gil Meacham, taking away prime off-road recreation land on Sand Mountain is akin to developing a subdivision in Zion Canyon.

“The public who uses this land for recreation was ‘promised’ and a clear expectation created that the Sand Mountain area would always be open and available for recreational use,” said UPLA Trustee Bill Christensen, in reference to a 2010 Resources Management Plan, or RMP, which states the Sand Mountain area would be left open for OHV recreation.

Since 2010, after a bankruptcy settlement, Bob Brennan has owned approximately 800 acres near the Green Springs area of Washington City, which is slated to be part of an exchange for the 1,200 acres on Sand Mountain, Meacham said. In 1997, Brennan loaned money to the original owner, Jim Doyle, knowing the land was within the newly-formed Habitat Conservation Plan, or HCP, established to protect the desert tortoise.

A sign by the water tanks above the intersection of Sand Hollow Road and the Southern Parkway, explaining it is only a temporary access point to the Sand Mountain OHV trails, July 11, 2014 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News
A sign by the water tanks above the intersection of Sand Hollow Road and the Southern Parkway, explaining it is only a temporary access point to the Sand Mountain OHV trails, July 11, 2014 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News | Click on photo to enlarge

Brennan was comfortable about his decisions regarding the property, he said, based on conversations with Doyle, and government documents. He thought the government was going to purchase the property. In 2001, a bill (HR 880) that would have led to the federal government acquiring Doyle’s land, now owned by Brennan, did not pass. Brennan said loaning the money and later acquiring the property was a calculated business decision that, if he had to do over, he would not do.

Another concern the UPLA has is that encroachment on Sand Mountain would take away OHV access points. There were seven entrances to the OHV trail systems on Sand Mountain, Meacham said, but construction of the new Southern Parkway cut off two entrances and when the Warner Valley Reservoir is constructed it will cut off two more. If the land swap goes through and the area is developed, it will cut off one more entrance, Meacham said. The water tanks above the intersection of Sand Hollow Road and the Southern Parkway have become an entry point into the trail system because of the others being cut off and the water tanks sit in the middle of what Brennan wants to develop, Meacham said.

Jim Raines, a consultant for Brennan Holdings, responded to those concerns by pointing out that one access point in Warner Valley has been restored and enhanced and that there is one access point within Sand Hollow State Park that many OHV enthusiasts do not use because they have to pay to get into the park to utilize it. Raines said that the proposed development would not cut off access and Brennan said, historically, few riders even venture into the parcel he wants to develop.


Related: Hurricane council strongly disapproves BLM land swap, favors sand dunes ATV recreation

Meacham said he is also afraid that landowners in the proposed luxury development would not be keen on hearing OHV recreation so close and could file lawsuits, which he said he has seen elsewhere near airports, raceways and arenas.

Raines said Little Valley is an excellent example to help allay such fears. Developed on former farmland and adjacent to active farmland, Little Valley residents began complaining about the farm smells and other issues, but a right-to-farm provision was put into place that precluded residents from filing lawsuits, Raines explained.  A similar right-to-ride provision would be put in place in the development Brennan proposes. Raines said people would most likely complain, but they would not be able to file lawsuits.

Some School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration land sits near the land Brennan would like to develop. One of UPLA’s goals is for the Bureau of Land Management to exchange the land with SITLA, providing SITLA land somewhere else, Meacham said. This would be beneficial for SITLA, Meacham said, because the land near Sand Mountain is not high quality developable land. However, if Brennan develops the land, the SITLA land would become more valuable, Meacham said, possibly leading to its sale and development, further restricting OHV access.

A stake marks the border of land slated to be part of the proposed Sand Hollow land exchange, July 11, 2014 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News
A stake marks the border of land slated to be part of the proposed Sand Hollow land exchange, July 11, 2014 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News | Click on photo to enlarge

Brennan said there is no access for development on SITLA lands and part of the plan for his own development is purchasing the SITLA land and donating it back specifically for OHV recreation, which Raines said would be the “deal of a lifetime.”

Both sides said they have no hard feelings towards each other.

“I have nothing against those people,” Brennan said of UPLA.

He admits he just wants to get paid for his property, a process which he feels has taken too long.

Meacham said he has no interest in defaming Brennan or the county commissioners, who are proponents of the proposed exchange. He just wants them to stand by the 2010 RMP stating Sand Hollow should be left alone.

Raines said the public must know that the land exchange is not a done deal.

“We’re just investigating options,” he said. “This is one of many solutions being discussed. Brennan has been proactive in finding solutions.”

A cultural and environmental study assessing the feasibility of the exchange will be released in September, Raines said.

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Email: rwadsworth@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

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11 Comments

  • james August 3, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    If we continue to allow developers to encroach on lands like sand mountain and the virgin river our quality of life will be destroyed. We must stand up now and demand that our City, County and State officials protect recreational arias as well as scenic and arias for wildlife, if we don’t the developers will have us living in a concrete jungle…

  • Money August 3, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Go with the money. Why should I care about destructive ATVers?

    • Mike August 3, 2014 at 8:35 pm

      Destructive ATVers? Wow!

    • Brian August 4, 2014 at 7:43 am

      Yeah, because paving over something preserves it so much better than letting people come and view it and enjoy it… Have you ever even been out there to see the “destruction”? I’ve been there many times with dozens of family members. There is very little “destruction” going on, and it’s a great place to get out and enjoy the red rock and views. I’d MUCH rather see it that way than one red rock hill, perfectly preserved, surrounded by a golf course and hundreds of condos. We used to love to go as a family to “picnic rock”. Now it’s right in the middle of an upper end golf course and clubhouse. No thanks. It was 100 times better before.

      • Mike August 4, 2014 at 10:01 am

        So your complaint is ATVers or condos?

  • John August 4, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    So Brennan made a bad business decision. Why does that mean 1,200 acres of Sand Mountain should be given to him?

    • Mr. Jones August 4, 2014 at 6:48 pm

      Exactly!!

    • bob August 4, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      because that’s how the welfare system works… bailouts

  • St Georgenative August 30, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    They’ll just pave paradise some more and put up a parking lot… Then charge an astronomical fee.

    • St Georgenative August 30, 2014 at 11:57 pm

      Both options are a lose lose for the general population

  • slamminsam42 November 6, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Yup, make a bad money decision then run to the Officials asking to be bailed out {a.k.a. welfare for the rich]. Should we trust the word of the Developers and their cronies? I say no way, witness the promises for the land swap above Snow Canyon State Park….we now can see high dollar homes from the Park. Brennan got something for his money, he has the deed to 800 acres near the Green Springs area that he wants to swap for more valuable land. Methinks we have enough luxury developments in and around St. George as it is so let’s make sure Sand Mountain stays wild.

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