County officials outraged by draft BLM plan, demand comment extension

ST. GEORGE – Washington County officials are outraged by a recently released Bureau of Land Management draft resource management plan which they say betrays the language and direction of a 2009 bill and has the potential to negatively impact every resident in the county, changing the Southern Utah lifestyle forever.

“To me, this is an 1,100-page minefield,” Ivins Mayor Chris Hart said, “The pages of this document … are laced with improvised explosive devices that are going to  blow up in the faces of the residents of Washington County.”

L-R St. George Mayor Jon Pike and Ivins Mayor Chris Hart at a special Washington County Commission meeting Thursday held to demand an extension of the comment period for the BLM draft resource management plans, St. George, Utah, Sept. 10, 2015 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News
L-R St. George Mayor Jon Pike and Ivins Mayor Chris Hart at a special Washington County Commission meeting Thursday held to demand an extension of the comment period for the BLM draft resource management plans, St. George, Utah, Sept. 10, 2015 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

“I’m livid, angry,” Commissioner Victor Iverson said.

“I think really what we’re dealing with is a complete betrayal by the (BLM) St. George City field office – a betrayal of the spirit and letter of the 2009 lands bill, a betrayal of the county’s right to be a cooperating agent, and a betrayal of commonsense and good land management practices,” Iverson said.

Commissioners and local mayors feel betrayed by the BLM’s failure to consult with local officials and by the restrictive proposals contained in the draft resource plans. Officials expressed their outrage and disappointment at a special Washington County Commission meeting and press conference Thursday.

County officials are demanding an extension of the comment period for the draft plans, which is set to expire Oct. 15, and say litigation will be filed if a 90-day extension is not granted. To that end, the commmissioners passed a resolution at the special meeting, demanding the BLM grant an extension to allow time to fully address the potential negative impacts that would result from implementation of the plans as currently drafted.

The draft plan threatens transportation plans, municipal water rights, grazing and many types of recreation, including rock climbing, mountain biking, geocaching, target shooting and ATV and off-road use, among others, officials say.

Read more: County responds to BLM draft resource plans, wants comment extension

The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 was a collaborative effort between the county, municipalities, state and federal governments and conservation groups. It was passed by Congress and intended to resolve conflicts between wilderness and lands use in Washington County.

The Act created the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash national conservation areas, and instructed the Bureau of Land Management to write resource management plans for the two NCAs, Iverson said.

“The plans do not reflect the spirit or, in a lot of cases, the letter of the lands bill,” Iverson said.

Language in the 2009 bill specified that a northern corridor through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area be designated and recreational activities be preserved.

“When the focus completely shifts and just becomes about preservation and control, then it really goes away from the language of the lands bill,” Iverson said.

County officials also said they feel betrayed by what they see as the failure of the BLM to fulfill its statutory obligations to coordinate planning efforts with local land use plans under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

So much of what is contained in this document has never been talked about,” Hart said. “Not with my city, not with cities much larger than we are, not  with the county to any significant extent.”

While city and county officials have generally had a good relationship with the BLM St. George Field Office, Iverson said, they were shocked and angered as more details of the draft management plans have emerged through weeks of research by county officials, including the Washington County Attorney’s Office.

Water, recreation and northern corridor

The management plan could affect anyone who hikes, bikes, camps, climbs, ranches or even drives in Washington County, officials said, by restricting access, claiming water rights and eliminating the possibility of a northern corridor.

“If we fail to assert enough influence on those who have created this draft, and get some of these provisions changed, our lifestyle here is going to be changed forever,” Hart said.

“It’s such a critical document for this county,” Commissioner Zachary Renstrom said. “This will have extreme impacts on everything. Even mountain biking, it’s going to cut off mountain biking to huge areas.”

Everyone who travels in a vehicle east to west or west to east in the county should be concerned about the lack of a northern corridor in the management plans, Hart said.

If a traffic loop around the county that includes a northern corridor is not completed, the county is looking at an “untenable situation,” Hart said, because east-west traffic would be limited to choke-points on St. George Boulevard and Red Hills Parkway.

“And it was specifically, specifically written into law as a part of the Omnibus Lands Use bill that that corridor was going to be created, a preferred route designated,” Hart said; “and as a Metropolitan Planning Organization, we’ve had that in our plans for well over 20 years, since long before the predecessor to this document.”

“Just the very idea that maybe one individual, one entity, one local office of a giant bureaucracy is going to have the prerogative of canceling out the right of our residents to travel conveniently in the county – unacceptable,” Hart said.

City of St. George Mayor Jon Pike expressed grave concern over water rights, which could affect municipal wells which tap into the the Navajo aquifer which lies underneath much of the Red Cliffs NCA.

In both national conservation areas, they are proposing that they buy up all of the water rights: surface water, ground water, all point sources that are within the NCAs, and that they don’t authorize any uses that would export water from the NCAs,” Deputy Washington County Attorney Celeste Maloy told the county planning commission Tuesday.

“They wouldn’t even have to buy it, they just take it, by removing the ability to get at it,” Pike said.

“I think (the draft plan) is not, really, so secretly designed to limit growth,” Pike said. “It affects our water supply, it affects our transportation.”

Another endangered species?

Officials are particularly concerned about sections of the draft management plan that propose endangered California condors be introduced into the two national conservation areas in the county.

Language in the draft management plan states that condors already in the county are part of an experimental population and so are not subject to the full protection of the Endangered Species Act.

However, if condors are introduced into the county’s national conservation areas, they will be fully protected, the same as the desert tortoise.

Down the road, this could lead to many more restrictions, Iverson said, as condors have a very large home range. The Center for Biological Diversity has already sued Arizona and California over the use of lead bullets within the condor’s range.

Shooting and the use of lead bullets could eventually be at risk, Iverson said, and although the BLM would say it can’t happen, his years of experience in land use issues tell him otherwise.

“I could see this very quickly spiraling out of control,” Iverson said.

Public comment

While Washington County and municipal officials plan to comment on the draft plan, it is also important for county residents to get involved.

All of our citizens need to join with us in making extensive comments on this plan,” Iverson said. “This plan, as far as the way I’ve been reading it leaves no user group unharmed.”

“Their comments will count, and do count,” Iverson said.

County officials are planning to set up a Web page to help residents submit comments to the BLM, and point out parts of the draft plan that may be of concern.

The County Attorney’s Office offers these suggestions for commenting:

Effective comments refer to specific details of the draft NCA RMPs or draft amendment. They address substantive issues, such as the accuracy of BLM’s information sources; provide new information; or suggest reasonable alternative courses of action.

All comments will be considered during BLM’s decision-making process, but only substantive comments will be addressed in the Proposed NCA RMPs and Proposed RMP Amendment/Final EIS. We need comments that not only state a preference for certain management actions but also include the reason for that preference.

Written comments on the recently released draft management plans for the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs national conservation areas are being accepted through Oct. 15.

Comments will be accepted by letter or email until Oct. 15. The most useful comments are those that contain new technical or scientific information relevant to the proposed action, the BLM said a news release.

Comments should be as specific as possible. Comments that contain only opinions or preferences will not receive a formal response but may be considered in the BLM decision-making process.

Please reference “NCA RMPs” when submitting comments to:

BLM-Utah St. George Field Office
Attn:  Keith Rigtrup
345 East Riverside Drive
St. George, UT 84790

Email: [email protected]

Before including an address, phone number, email address or other personally identifiable information in any comments, be aware that the entire comment — including personal identifying information — may be made publicly available at any time. Requests to withhold personal identifying information from public review can be submitted, but the BLM cannot guarantee that it will be able to accommodate those requests.

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Twitter: @STGnews

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  • WhatTheHeck September 11, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    The public comment period was well advertised and the county expects the BLM to burden the time and expense to extend? Go ahead and start litigation, I doubt the BLM is intimidated.

    • native born new mexican September 11, 2015 at 11:54 pm

      That is the problem the BLM is sure it can get away with being the biggest bully on the block. They really believe they have to answer to no one for their actions. These are the actions of totalitarians and dictators. This nation is supposed to be a republic where these types of decisions are made by law makers who are elected by the public who are affected by the laws being made. The only solution for this is to get the feds out. They have shown again and again that they won’t play fair. They have used up their chances. Get rid of them.

      • beacon September 12, 2015 at 1:39 pm

        This RMP has been in the works since 2009. They are doing what they were told to do and Washington County leaders have known it’s in the works during that entire time. They have had plenty of time to weigh in with the BLM and many trips to DC by our commissioners have been made to twist arms. Read the document and stop blaming the feds for everything. They aren’t the cause of all problems. They have to answer to Congress for their actions. Congress passed the law that the BLM is now using to direct their efforts (with their hands tied by funding being diminished, I might add!). If they were the bullies that you think they are people like Cliven Bundy would not be grazing livestock with little control. Your argument doesn’t ring true.

        • native born new mexican September 12, 2015 at 2:38 pm

          the big egos and extremists in the BLM answer to no one Beacon. I have dealt personally with the BLM. I know what I am saying. They laugh behind the backs of congress- congress is just a big joke to them. Local control isn’t perfect but at least it is local and as such answers to the people impacted by the decisions and actions of local leaders. The solution for states is to take back their sovereignty and run things locally. That includes schools/ education and the marriage issue.

          • fun bag September 12, 2015 at 6:46 pm

            toot toot! all aboard the kook train! Native Born has been riding that train for a looooooong time

          • beacon September 12, 2015 at 9:09 pm

            I, too, know BLM employees and they are mostly dedicated, hard-working people. Local control will result in lands being overrun by the development interests. Mark my words. History shows how it’s worked. Local pressures are too strong for local leaders to withstand. Best to keep at arm’s length. I’m sure those who stand to gain by having public lands available to them for development would disagree.

        • 42214 September 12, 2015 at 2:59 pm

          Beacon you are 100% correct. Native Born always whines about big bad gov’t bullies without any factual arguments.

          • native born new mexican September 12, 2015 at 10:59 pm

            The facts are in the papers discussed in this article 42214. Did you read the article and do you understand the BLM actions? I can give you an adding machine paper list full of bad acts by the BLM and forest service not to mention the EPA ( toxic spill any one.?) You would not accept any thing i say because you agree with what is being done. you have no respect for anything but your own opinion. Having a different view and ideas than you and others posting here is immediate cause for name calling (whining? Mr. bully?) Name calling only poisons the environment. it contributes nothing constructive to the conversation. Have you got something intelligent to say or can you only name call? The next name I see you calling some one here will verify to me the level of your intelligence – a bully and a name caller nothing more. Got some more names you want to call some one? Keep showing me how smart you aren’t.

          • 42214 September 13, 2015 at 11:03 am

            I just think Beacon made a much better argument than you with facts to support him. You don’t have to get all emotional. You’re prone to hyperbole which underminds your credibility.

          • 42214 September 13, 2015 at 1:25 pm

            Native Born, could you please point out the name I called you. I merely said you whine about gov’t bullies without facts, what name did I call you? You’re becomming irrational.

  • Bender September 11, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Now we’ve heard one side of the story. Where’s the other side Julie?

  • friend September 11, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    The words we use are really important – nowhere in the lands bill is there language that according to Mayor Hart “…specifically, specifically written into law as a part of the Omnibus Lands Use bill that that corridor was going to be created, a preferred route designated”. Key words are “created” & “designated”. The Lands Bill (if anyone would actually read it) says: (A) in consultation with appropriate Federal agencies… identify 1 or more alternatives for a northern transportation route in the County” Again the key word is “identify”. There is a big difference between identifying and creating. Again, nowhere in the document does it state a route would be designated or created. I wish our public officials would educate themselves.

  • beacon September 11, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    “…a betrayal of the spirit and letter of the 2009 lands bill”? Please, read the 2009 Omnibus Commissioner Iverson and others. Actually, Iverson and others know exactly what the act says and it does not require the BLM cater to their desires. Everyone should remember why the Reserve, now an NCA, was created. It was not created primarily as a recreational area. Citing from the Habitat Conservation Plan, “Washington County has prepared this Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) anticipating that it will provide a comprehensive approach to preserving and protecting Mojave desert tortoise habitat in Washington County, while at the same time allowing controlled growth and development in those portions of desert tortoise habitat which are less essential to the species.” The Reserve/NCA has become a loved recreational area and the additional human impacts are being felt. There area many places in Washington County for people to recreate, and they will continue to be able to recreate in this area, but the primary focus is to protect the threatened and endangered species for which the area was set aside. For leaders to turn their backs on this and demand more recreation, grazing, etc., lacks integrity.

  • KarenS September 11, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    It is apparent from the mountain biking fear-mongering that the local leaders have no idea what is in the draft plans. I have followed the mountain biking regulations for years in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. Mountain biking has already been restricted to established trails since the Reserve was created in the 90’s. And there are trails designated as wilderness, such as Cottonwood Creek, that have always been off-limits to mountain bikes. None of the draft alternatives change that at all, in fact, there will be more mountain biking trails available as resources permit. The mountain biking quote by one of the local leaders of “cutting of huge areas” is hogwash.

    Mostly the local leaders seem to want to get people all worked up so they can have their northern corridor to get a foothold in the Red Cliffs NCA for even more development. Nuts to them!

  • beacon September 11, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    One more thing…Mayor Hart states, “And it was specifically, specifically written into law as a part of the Omnibus Lands Use bill that that corridor was going to be created, a preferred route designated,” Hart said; “and as a Metropolitan Planning Organization, we’ve had that in our plans for well over 20 years, since long before the predecessor to this document.” Mayor, here’s what the act actually states, FYI, “in consultation with appropriate Federal agencies, State, tribal, and local governmental entities (including the County and St. 5 George City, Utah), and the public, identify 1 or more alternatives for a northern transportation route in the County.” Well, BLM actually identified 4 routes. They just didn’t choose yours. As you noted, county leaders and transportation planners had the preferred route on the books for 20 some years. If so, why did they not push to have it included when the HCP was established? I think we all know that. It would have held up development in Washington County. Leaders should show the integrity needed now.

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