CEDAR CITY – State lawmakers were crowded into three buses Wednesday and Thursday traveling through Southern Utah on a two-day visit through rural areas.
Starting from the state Capitol in Salt Lake City, more than 80 legislators and their spouses traveled south making several stops along the way in various counties including Beaver and Iron Counties. The trip wasn’t just for sightseeing but a field trip of sorts, giving lawmakers a chance to learn about some of the unique issues facing the rural areas in their state.
“We try to do these tours every two years where we go to different places throughout Utah,” Ric Cantrell, Senate chief of staff, said. “It gives legislators an opportunity to learn about the different cities and counties throughout the state – both the successes and the unique issues facing them.”
Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said the tour will help legislators have a better understanding of the differences between the more largely represented urban centers up north and their smaller counterparts in the south. That knowledge, he added, will translate in their decision-making during the 90-day legislative session that begins every year during the last part of January.
“Whenever you can get legislators off the Wasatch Front visiting other areas in the state it’s a great opportunity,” Vickers said. “It’s one thing for me to tell them about the issues we face in Iron County and Southern Utah – water, prairie dogs, the wild horses – but it’s another for them to come here and see it for themselves. It makes it that much easier when we’re in session. Because now I don’t have to spend as much time trying to explain an issue to them, they’ve been here – they get it. So, then we can spend the time working together to find the solutions to those issues.”
In planning for the legislators’ visit, Iron County Commissioners prepared an 18-page booklet they handed out to both lawmakers and representatives of the media outlining the issues they believe are the most important, such as prairie dogs, water, wild horses and prairie dogs.
Iron County Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff said in an interview that he hoped to help legislators understand the impact of a recent court decision on prairie dogs that overturned a lower court’s earlier ruling granting exceptions from federal Endangered Species Act provisions for private land owners.
“It’s important legislators understand how this decision impacts Iron County,” Brinkerhoff said. “This new ruling is huge and it’s already affecting us; we need them (legislators) onboard helping us to deal with this issue.”
After making stops to tour the Intermountain Power Project in Millard County and another at the First Wind wind energy project that spans Millard and Beaver counties, legislators traveled to the Utah Red Hills Renewable Energy Park in Parowan, one of 15 solar farms operating in Iron County that collectively utilize 5,900 acres.
Bill Green, CEO of Macquarie Infrastructure Corporation Renewable Energy Holdings, spent nearly an hour answering legislators’ questions, explaining the future of renewable energy throughout Utah. He also spoke on what he said has been a great partnership between Iron County and the solar company.
Following the trip to the solar farm, legislators headed over to Southern Utah University where they were met with a warm welcome from SUU President Scott Wyatt and treated to dinner and desert.
Wyatt thanked them for their support of the university and the money they had allocated in the past. He specifically called attention to the $8 million the Legislature gave the school last year for the construction of the new business building, scheduled to begin next week.
“We are your university,” Wyatt said. “You’ve invested in us and we hope that we can make you proud.”
Legislators took a trip to Bryce Canyon Thursday to enjoy some sightseeing, horseback riding and all-terrain vehicle rides.
After having lunch at a local restaurant, they continued on to Piute County where they stopped at the local high school to hear county commissioners speak on the challenges facing smaller schools.
From there, the buses traveled to Sanpete County to tour the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison and have dinner at the Gunnison Middle School.
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