Defend and protect: Rural Utah Alliance invites county to join

Overlooking Warner Valley from the Hurricane Cliffs, Washington County, Utah, photo undated | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Washington County Commissioners are considering an invitation to join the Rural Utah Alliance, a newly formed group focused on land use issues and headed by Peter Stirpa.

Stirpa represented San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, who was charged and convicted for his role in the 2014 ATV protest ride through Recapture Canyon.

The Rural Utah Alliance was formed in January and received $250,000 in funding from the Utah State Legislature, alliance representative Jeff Bramble told the County Commission in a presentation at a regular commission meeting Tuesday.

According to information from the Utah Legislature, the $250,000 appropriation for Rural Utah Alliance is intended to be used as seed money to “defend and protect rural counties’ interests by providing legal assistance for county officials when faced with land use and ownership legal issues.”

Stirpa is the registered agent for the Rural Utah Alliance. The directors are Beaver County Commissioner Mark Whitney and Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock.

Several commissioners from Southern Utah counties are interested in joining the Rural Utah Alliance, Bramble told the Washington County Commission.

Counties feel like they’ve had nowhere to turn to … where they can get sound legal advice on what they should do with their lands or how they should approach what they feel is overreach by the (Bureau of Land Management) and the federal government,” Bramble said.

“What we are doing, the purpose of (Rural Utah Alliance), is to help defend, protect the rural counties’ interest in their land,” he said, including ownership, grazing allotments or whatever other issues the counties have.

Kane and Garfield counties have already formally approved funding to join the Rural Utah Alliance, Bramble said. Counties will be part of the adoption of bylaws and officially formalizing the alliance, and they will have a member on the board of directors.

The annual fee for membership in the alliance is $5,000; however, Bramble offered the commission a partial-year fee of $2,500.

Commissioner Alan Gardner asked Bramble about the alliance’s articles of organization, which Bramble said are still being formalized. Bramble said the organization does not yet have its official 501(c)(3) designation and had used basic Utah nonprofit bylaws in its application.

The group would be able to access fees through the Equal Access to Justice Act, Bramble said, adding that would be an important funding mechanism for the group.

According to the American Bar Association, the Act allows the prevailing parties other than the government to recover the cost of litigation, including attorneys’ fees. Local governments suing the federal government cannot access the fees, Commissioner Victor Iverson said.

The alliance is needed in addition to the Utah Attorney General’s Office and land use organizations that already exist, Bramble said.

“One attorney can handle some issues, but with all the land issues that Southern Utah is facing … it’s more than one attorney can handle,” he said.

Initial plans for the alliance are to create a hotline that counties can access if they need a quick answer to a question or some quick research, Bramble said.

Commissioner Zachary Renstrom asked Bramble how the group is not a duplication of the Utah Association of Counties.

“The benefit is … we do not have to answer to certain counties that don’t really care about rural county issues,” Bramble said.

The commission agreed to consider the alliance proposal.


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