Commission favors revising section of county master plan
The Carbon commission took steps to solidify the county's standing on public lands on Oct. 15 by approving, with slight changes, a revamp of a section of the local master plan for public lands and resources.
"In December of last year, you directed our department to review this section of the master plan and we have done so," explained Dave Levanger, county planning and zoning director. "Here is the revised document as has been determined by an ad hoc committee we set up for this purpose."
The committee consisted of people from various groups that have interests in public lands. Included in the group were individuals representing forests, hunting and fishing, planning, grazing, off-road vehicles, the gas and oil industry and mining interests.
Some of the issues addressed by the group included the county's possible loss of tax revenue by the sale or turnover of private lands to governmental or non-taxable entities, wildlife, the scenic rivers designation process, public access, forest products, mineral extraction, cultural and historical resources, recreation and tourism, threatened or endangered species, grazing permits, law enforcement and water rights.
What federal and state governments do with public lands and how the entities secure additional acreage are of major importance to Carbon County. In Carbon County, 49 percent of the land is owned by the federal government.
Local residents rely on public lands for livelihoods and resources or for recreation. The situation creates a type of partnership with the federal government.
The United States Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service are the two largest managing federal agencies in the area.
Currently, federal law and agency planning directives provide opportunities for local governments to participate actively in public land management.
The federal planning process includes rule making, court decisions and other actions impact public lands.
"We put this together based somewhat on what other counties have done as well," explained Levanger. "I think we came up with a good document that addresses the issues."
According to the county zoning official, all concerned parties had reviewed the document, including the BLM.
Levanger indicated that the interested parties had offered a few suggestions and concerns. Most of recommendations were minor, but the parties felt additional research was needed regarding the matter of law enforcement.
"The way I understand it, it was mainly just some technical stuff that they were concerned about," said Commissioner Steven Burge. "They are not here to object to the revision so that must show something."
When the public hearing on the issue opened, the only comments were in support of the document.
After the hearing closed, the commissioners discussed several of the county's concerns about what has been happening in the area of public lands. One concern involved the acquisition of private property by the federal government. Property acquired by the federal government is taken off local tax roles and the situation hurts counties financially. The payments in lieu of taxes the county receives for public lands does not generate nearly as much money as real taxes on private property.
"Possibly, we should look at some type of threshold at which point we should be informed before the federal government can purchase lands," said Commissioner Bill Krompel. "We should get a chance to comment on those types of transactions."
The problem exists throughout the western U.S.
"It's alarming to many people," pointed out Levanger, referring to the trend. "A lot of land has already gone to the states as well as to the federal government in this way. Personally, I think the issue will end up in court eventually."
Another issue discussed by the commission is the fact that some environmental and preservation groups have bought rights and lands to keep others from using property for assigned purposes.
In particular, the issue of grazing rights came up during the commission meeting last week.
"I am concerned when one party can buy grazing rights from another and then not use those rights," stated Krompel.
The issue also ties into the problem of environmental and preservation groups purchasing large tracts of land, then turning the property over to the federal government.
In both cases, the actions affect a local area's economy by tying the property up for non-use or taking the land off the tax base.
Earlier in the year, BLM state director Sally Wisely approved the retirement of four grazing allotments in the Escalante-Staircase area.
The rights had been purchased by the Grand Canyon Trust for about $600,000 from ranchers willing to part with the rights.
The decision came after much wrangling over the initial purchase, with a classic battle between environmental groups that supported the move and ranchers and county governments in the area that opposed such approval.
The discussion in the commission chambers then centered around how that could affect Carbon county and it's economy.
"I believe that Wisely's action may be contrary to federal law," stated Levanger.
At that point the commission committed to the section of the master plan as proposed, with a legal review making it final.
In another discussion at last week's meeting, the county commissions addressed flood control in the county.
Residents from Haycock Lane in Spring Glen were present because they had been at a previous meeting and the county attorney said he would check as to the obligation the county has for a ditch that runs in front of some of their homes.
"From our research, the county has no obligation to do anything with the ditch or the runoff in it," said Carbon County Attorney Gene Strate. "The easement for flood control goes to each of the property owners."
The ditch in question has been deteriorating over the past few years, getting clogged with weeds and being filled up with gravel from road work and snow plowing.
Some residents have experienced flooding from runoff that the ditch no longer carries away.
A few years ago, the owner of the ditch deeded the land over to the county, although it's not clear that the county accepted the land.
"Well if the county doesn't want the land why can't it be deeded over to each of the individual land owners, so we can take care of each section?" asked Norm Hansen a resident of the area.
However the county just can't deed land over, nor do all the residents want the land. Commissioners, however, were not unsympathetic to the plight of the residents.
"We have talked about this and I think we need to meet with you out there and see if we can find some answers to this problem," stated Burge. "I think this boils down to two issues. First is the eight foot strip of land and what to do with it and the other is the flooding problem."
The discussion continued, with commissioners responding to residents' comments.
"Just about everyone in Spring Glen is raising these drainage issue questions," said Lynna Topolovec, a resident of the area and a member of the county's planning and zoning board. "I suggest we get a group of people together such as the canal companies and interested citizens and try to resolve the issues."
The commissioners said that some experts involved might help to resolve the situation, but they still planned on meeting with the residents of Haycock Lane who had come to the commission meeting that night.