Carbon, Duchesne, Vernal chambers address rural issues
DUCHESNE - There are two Utahs: The densely-populated, highly-urbanized Wasatch Front, and rural Utah. And more and more, the Wasatch Front is calling the shots for rural areas of the state. That's why it's important for rural counties - their chambers of commerce and elected officials - to band together and work cohesively to get their goals accomplished.
That was the message at the first joint meeting of the Duchesne County, Carbon County and Vernal Area Chambers of Commerce. Representatives from the three chambers, along with state elected officials, met in Duchesne County to hear legislative updates, progress with chamber activities, and to share ideas on how to advance their local communities.
The chambers met on Thursday, Sept. 26.
The main topic of the meeting, which highlighted status updates from the chambers, a talk by State Sen. Kevin VanTassell and legislative and transportation updates, was on public land administration.
Many speakers and audience members voiced a growing frustration with what they said was federal interference with how land is administered - and what they see as impediments to extracting oil, gas, coal, shale oil and tar sands and getting - due to environmental regulations.
Added to that, complaints about being governed by an increasingly urban population - in Washington, D.C. as well as in Salt Lake City - flew from chamber and audience members. Environmental regulations regarding drilling activity, challenges to future oil shale operations and protests over the construction of State Road 88 - Seep Ridge Road - into Grand County were sources of frustration to many in the audience.
What some groups see as environmental stewardship, others who are dependent on the area's economy see as sabotage of a livelihood.
That led VanTassell to joke that maybe the protest groups were funded by Saudi Arabia.
The meeting was not all doom and gloom. Each of the chambers and elected officials shared some success stories about their efforts at growing local business.
That was the goal of the meeting, said Irene Hansen, director of the Duchesne County Chamber of Commerce.
"We're hoping to get to know each other's legislators and talk about issues affecting Eastern Utah," Hansen said.
Vernal Area Chamber of Commerce Director Adam Massey and Emery County Commissioner Ethan Migliori, who serves on the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce, also spoke, highlighting the need for the three counties' businesses and elected representatives to work together.
Migliori spoke about some of Carbon County Chamber of Commerce's successes in building up relationships between businesses and elected officials.
"It's allowed us to break down walls and barriers, and broaden our reach," he said of some of the Carbon Chamber's activities.
"We've been trying to reinvent ourselves over the past several years," he said.
Migliori pointed to some of the chamber's recent efforts, like Business After Hours functions and monthly business lunches. The chamber is also working on other events, like "Shopalooza" to highlight home businesses.
That need will only grow more critical, VanTassell said. As the Wasatch Front continues to grow, its representation will increase also. Even as the Basin grows, redistricting will affect how well the region is represented in Salt Lake City, he said.
VanTassell predicted that by 2040, there will be two rural state senators for the entire state.
"Our only hope, in my opinion, is to get people on committees to have influence," he said. This is where the chambers come into play and have a chance to impact the direction of the state.
Major issues like air and water quality can be steered in the Basin's favor by getting local people on those boards, VanTassell said.
"To me this is one of the most important things we can do," he added. "We need to get people to serve."