ST. GEORGE — The Washington County Commission awarded $125,000 in Recreation, Arts and Parks tax funds, supported a deadline extension for Bureau of Land Management resource management plans and discussed tortoise “take” at a regular meeting Tuesday.
In deciding which entities to support with the new RAP tax money, the Commission adopted the recommendations of the RAP Tax Advisory Board. Funds were awarded to 26 different entities of the 42 various art, theater and music organizations that applied for funding.
Tuacahn Center for the Arts received half of the available RAP tax funds — $125,000 — a commitment the Commission made during an October 2015 meeting.
Other groups who received major funding include the Southwest Symphony Orchestra, which received $29,600, and the Kayenta Arts Foundation, which received $10,000. Smaller amounts ranging from $500 to $8,000 were granted to other groups.
The RAP tax was passed by voters in the 2014 General Election and is expected to generate $2 million per year for the county and municipalities. The money is earmarked for recreational and cultural facilities and organizations.
The first RAP tax money did not start coming in until April 2015; next year, the Commission expects to have more RAP money to distribute.
Resource management plan deadline extension
The Commission passed a resolution supporting a six-month extension of the deadline for the BLM resource management plans for the Red Cliffs National Recreation Area.
The court-imposed deadline for completion of the massive and controversial resource management plans is June 2016. However, the BLM is requesting more time to address the county’s many concerns with the document and to complete internal BLM review processes, assistant county attorney Eric Clarke said.
The deadline was imposed by a judge in a case where landowner James Doyle filed suit against the U.S. Department of Interior, alleging the department was violating the law by not having completed a management plan for the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. The court ordered the plan be completed by June 30, 2016.
A public comment period for the resource management plans ended Nov. 16, 30 days later than originally planned, because city and county officials requested more time to digest and respond to the plans.
The county’s resolution in favor of an extension will be filed in support of the BLM’s request for a deadline extension from the court.
“It’s all up to the judge and how he runs it,” Clarke said. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens.”
Long Valley exchange; tortoise take
In other business, the county passed a resolution approving a limited number of desert tortoises to be “taken” from property in the Long Valley area of Washington County and placed in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.
About 600 acres of land in the Long Valley area is being considered for an exchange with developer Bob Brennan, who is one of the few remaining landowners with private property inside the Reserve.
When the exchange process began, the Long Valley property was not known to be desert tortoises habitat, Habitat Conservation Plan Administrator Bob Sandberg told the Commission. After a few tortoises were found on the western edge of the property, that area was excluded from the land exchange.
There is no sign of tortoises on the remaining Long Valley property, but if any are found they will be relocated to the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. However, because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife definition of “take” includes relocating the animals, it may be necessary to count moved tortoises against the county’s incidental take permit, Sandberg said.
“The way that the Fish and Wildlife Service defines ‘take’ is ‘harm, harass, kill, pursue’ … so you don’t actually have to kill it, but they still consider that you’ve done something that may result in its death,” Sandberg said.
“So the fact that you pick it up and move it, even though it’s still alive, you can’t guarantee that it’s going to continue to live, so they assess that take against the county,” he said.
In the last 20 years, about 700 tortoises have been “taken” under the county’s permit, and of those, about 500 were simply relocated to the Reserve, Commissioner Alan Garder said.
“We know that we’ve got tortoises that are alive and doing well, but they still count against us,” Sandberg said.
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