ST. GEORGE – A new proposal for a smaller land exchange in the popular Sand Mountain off-highway vehicle area was presented to the Habitat Conservation Plan Advisory Committee Tuesday; and discussions continue on plans for the Quarry Trail near Red Hills Golf Course.
The new 650-acre land swap proposal was presented by Jim Raines, a consultant for landowner Bob Brennan, during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Brennan is one of a handful of remaining landowners with property within the boundaries of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, which was created by the Habitat Conservation Plan 20 years ago to protect the endangered desert tortoise and allow development to continue in the rest of Washington County.
However, proposals to exchange any property in the Sand Mountain area are highly controversial, and the Utah Public Lands Alliance has vowed to use every conceivable legal means available to prevent any land from being removed from off-highway vehicle area.
Brennan is pushing for cash or land exchanges in exchange for property remaining in the Reserve, and presented a list of possible solutions at the May HCP committee meeting.
The new proposal spares two popular rock crawling trails, Raines told the committee – Milt’s Mile and Nasty Half – as part of a proposed buffer zone.
However, the new proposal still encroaches on existing off-highway vehicle trails, Utah Public Lands Alliance President Gil Meacham said.
“The offer to decrease the area of the proposed Sand Hollow Exchange is a step in the right direction,” Meacham said, “but we feel any loss of open OHV area on Sand Mountain is not acceptable.”
The majority of the eastern boundary is unchanged in the new proposal, Meacham said, and it was assumed that Milt’s Mile is the furthest west trail in the northwest corner of the proposed exchange area.
“Actually there are at least two other four-wheel drive trails in the canyons west of Milt’s Mile,” Meacham said. “There are also some small slot canyons further to the West, by the Hurricane Water Tanks, that have a lot of use by ATV/UTV riders.”
When the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve was created in 1996, the off-highway vehicle community lost tens of thousands of acres of open travel area, Meacham said. To compensate for the huge loss, the Sand Mountain Special Recreation Management Area was created, with 20,000 acres of land permanently designated as “open travel.”
“Now, we are told that we should give up 650 acres of that land,” Meacham said. “Whether it is 1,200 acres, 650 acres, or 50 acres, it is a broken promise,” Meacham said.
The primary benefactors of the Habitat Conservation Plan Permit were developers, Meacham said, and they should be the ones to compensate for their gains, not the users of Sand Mountain.
The HCP committee is moving forward on an exchange in the Long Valley area, in which Brennan would acquire approximately 610 acres from the BLM in exchange for some of his property in the Reserve. The Long Valley parcel is worth $10,000 to $12,000 per acre, Brennnan said. At that price, the total value of the Long Valley property is $6.1 million to $7.3 million.
Hurricane City is encouraging landowners in the Sand Mountain area to pursue annexation, Hurricane Mayor John Bramall said. Officials want to annex the land to keep it open for recreation, especially all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts, without any fees.
The issue was discussed at a recent Hurricane City Council meeting, where a resolution was passed authorizing Bramall to talk with landowners, and make the city’s case for annexation.
“The development plan for that area was for a permanent recreation area,” Bramall said.
Landowners in the area include BLM, the Utah State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration and a few private parties. Some 200 acres have already been annexed by Hurricane, Bramall said. At least 51 percent of landowners would have to agree to the annexation.
“Instead of them having to work with five to ten entities, they could work with the city,” Bramall said.
Who’s in charge?
Raines told the Habitat Conservation Plan committee that the available options for developer Bob Brennan are being eliminated through inaction, and expressed frustration about the whole process.
“Who is in charge? Who owns this fundamental process?” Raines said, and asked the committee to be proactive and set up a committee or assign someone to be in charge. There is a misperception that the landowners are driving any exchange or purchase, but ultimately it will be the collective will of the stakeholders, Raines said.
Ivins Mayor Chris Hart, a member of the HCP committee, echoed frustration and confusion about the whole process.
“Until we know what the various entities are willing to do,” Hart said, “then we don’t know how realistic any of those options are.”
Raines agreed, saying no one “owns” the problem, and that is a fundamental problem. Washington County is obligated to facilitate, but there are several other stakeholders that would have to sign on to any agreement, including BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, and the cities in Washington County that signed the agreement.
Proposed quarry trail
In other HCP business, discussions continue about the proposed Quarry Trail site on a bluff directly south of and adjacent to Red Hills Golf Club.
The proposed trail is sponsored by members of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, and the group has been raising money to help fund the project. However the project is located within the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, which raises tortoise habitat and safety concerns.
Committee member Marc Mortensen, who is also assistant to the city manager of St. George, said previously that some of the proposed trail routes present too much of a liability risk to the city, as hikers on the trail could be hit by golf balls from the nearby course.
In addition, any loss of habitat within the Reserve must, by law, be replaced or otherwise mitigated, and discussions are ongoing with the HCP technical committee.
The latest proposal is a single-file, 10-inch to 18-inch “goat trail” which would route hikers quickly uphill and away from the golf course via switchbacks.
This option could be expensive to build, but would create minimum disturbance to tortoise habitat and be safer for trail users.
No action was taken on the latest proposal, pending a St. George City Council decision on funding, and further study by the technical committee.
- Red Cliffs Desert Reserve
- Red Cliffs National Conservation Area
- Utah Public Lands Alliance
- Land and Water Conservation Fund coalition website
- Hurricane changes ordinance, desires annexation of Sand Mountain
- Developer pushes for resolution from Habitat Conservation Plan, Sand Hollow land swap compromise
- Off-highway land users threaten action on Sand Hollow exchange
- Land use advocates ask Hatch to resolve land issues in tortoise habitat, eliminating Sand Mountain land swap
- Developer pursues land swap under Habitat Conservation Plan; OHV users argue to preserve Sand Mountain
- Land users angry about land swap, county may consider alternatives
- County applies for HCP permit renewal, moves forward on land exchanges; STGnews Videocast
- Hurricane council strongly disapproves BLM land swap, favors sand dunes ATV recreation
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