County considers revising development code, master plan for Nine Mile Canyon
In an effort to manage land use in Nine Mile Canyon, the Carbon County development code staff presented to the county planning and zoning commission preliminary plans for a new overlay zone and proposed updates to county master plans.
"We're trying to delineate the jurisdiction of private lands," said Dave Levanger, director of planning.
The proposed change would be accomplished through two separate revisions to county policy. Levanger presented draft copies of the new overlay zone and proposed revision to the county master plan.
The first revision to county policy would be an update to county master plan that would delineate the position of county government with regard to federal land designations.
The draft of the revision to the master plan, which was presented at the meeting on Tuesday, specifies that county commissioners will respond to federal agencies regarding support or rejection of federal designations proposed within the county.
It further clarifies that no federal designations may be applied to any portion of the county without written consent from county officials and discussion in a public meeting.
In a move to protect private land owners, the proposed revision places financial responsibility on federal agencies if they violate the policy. It protects land owners in the event that the value and use of their land is depleted as a result of a federal action which violates the policy. The draft revision suggests that such violations would include ranging from rules and regulations to licensing and permitting requiring dedications or exactions from the private land owner.
The draft revision also states that private property owners will be justly compensated in the event their land is taken for public use.
A second revision to county policy would be to create a new overlay zone. The proposed zone is called the Nine Mile Canyon overlay zone (NMCO) which would govern permitted uses, development and construction with in the canyon.
Levanger pointed out that approximately 62 percent of the canyon bottom is privately owned and the state owns roughly 10 percent. That means about 28 percent of the land in the canyon bottom is owned and regulated by the federal government.
"That's backwards from most of the rest of the county," said Levanger, who pointed out than in most counties in the western United States, the federal government owns and regulates more land than county or state agencies.
With so much of the canyon bottom owned by private land owners, most of the usable surfaces in the canyon would be affected by the NMCO zone. Since drilling operations and pipeline construction is not feasible on the canyon walls, those operations would need to occur above the canyon rim on the West Taviputs Plateau or in the canyon bottom.
Those operations on the plateau would be mostly governed by federal land management, while operations on the canyon bottom would be affected by county regulations more than federal guidelines because there is more private land in the canyon bottom than federal.
"We're trying to be a cooperating agency," explained Levanger. He explained that the county and BLM have been working closely to develop guidelines that would establish consistent land use within the Nine Mile Canyon region.
Any uses already defined in an underlying zone would remain intact under the new NMCO zone. But the new zone would regulate certain conditional uses, including construction, operation and production of oil and gas wells and other energy developments along with infrastructure to support those projects.
In particular, the new zoning requirements focus on mining and drilling sites. New wells would need to be at least 660 feet from existing dwellings and served by an existing road. Additionally, the proposed zoning regulations require that a reclamation plans be submitted and that those plans take into consideration wells sites, mines, road improvements and any other areas disturbed by mining or drilling operations.
The proposed requirements also state that drilling and mining operations comply with state and federal requirements including applicable permits and licenses.
Additionally, the proposed zoning change has a provision which allows surface land owners to require mineral right owners to perform an inventory of the forage, timber, wildlife and historic artifacts and develop a plan to mitigate affects to those resources.
The planning and zoning commission is expected to make a motion regarding the matter in the July meeting of the planning and zoning commission. If planning and zoning gives favorable recommendations of the proposed revisions, the county commission could make a decision on the matter in late July or early August.