Panelists face off about Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative
As Keith Helmke stood in line waiting for the microphone at the panel discussion on Tuesday, he kept going over the question he wanted to ask: why should I trust U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative?
"What is so wrong with the current system, other than the fact that federal government manages the land and doesn’t charge British Petroleum enough," said Helmke, a Jeremy Ranch resident. "Why would I trust Bishop and his cronies and let them divide the spoils among themselves? It’s better to do business with the devil himself. At the end of the day, it belongs to the American people.
"I see it as a duplicitous land grab," he said. "These lands are the property of the United States of America."
However, the two-hour long discussion ended before the panelists could weigh in on Helmke’s question.
The debate, hosted by the Park City Project for Deeper Understanding, touched on various components of the legislation, including the designation of Bears Ears as a National Monument, potential of expanded areas for fossil fuel development, new wilderness designations and additional watershed management areas in the Uinta Mountains. More than 100 attended.
Bishop and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) have been working for more than three years with various stakeholders to come up with a proposal that addresses land protection, conservation, recreation and economic development for more than 18 million acres of land. It was crafted from proposals submitted by Summit, Duchesne, Uintah, Carbon, Emery, Grand and San Juan Counties.
When Bishop released a draft in February it immediately sparked concern in Summit County among those responsible for the county’s proposal, with most saying it did not represent the wilderness advisory group’s wishes.
The county’s proposal recommended an expansion of the Uinta Mountains wilderness designation by 23,903 acres and the creation of watershed and special management areas. However, in February, Lisa Yoder, Summit County sustainability program manager, said the legislation "included significant alterations that do not comport with proposal submitted by Summit County."
She went on, "several edits are required to bring the draft legislation into line with Summit County’s resolution and language for the watershed management areas, special management area, and wilderness."
Casey Snider, Bishop’s legislative director, acknowledged the discrepancies saying "those were oversights on our part that we readily admit."
"For the purpose of drafting the proposal, we lumped things together to be able to move forward into the next process," Snider said. "I assure you and, I dare say, that your elected officials can attest, that we have worked to get specific details to make this better and we have attempted to come back to address those. At his stage in the game we are still working on this process."
Throughout the evening, Snider repeatedly stated that his office is "trying to strike a balance" between various groups about the management of millions of acres. He said Bishop made a statement when this process started that "all we are going to do is make everyone equally unhappy.
"I think we have achieved this," Snider said with a laugh. "But what we will not stand for is a process that takes away from a collaborative effort and instead inserts politics into this discussion. We cannot move forward if people are trying to kill it so ‘I can get everything I want.’"
Snider said his office is working through a "substantial corrections" right now to produce a viable piece of legislation. He said the next draft "will not look like this."
"People should not be made to feel we are hiding the ball," Snider said. "I think going forward we will make a stronger effort to identify those things so people know exactly what is being laid out."
David Garbett, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, countered that saying Summit County is unique in this discussion because its proposal represented a consensus between various stakeholders.
"With that diverse group, Summit County reached a consensus and I think it is fair to treat that differently and it should be honored," Garbett said.
Garbett referred to the Public Lands Initiative as a "fossil fuel development bill" and said the environmental community has "a number of concerns" with it.
"It’s an effort to deprive Americans of their management and their say over our national public lands and grant it to the state and county," Garbett said. "We are not happy with what we’ve seen from the PLI (Public Lands Initiative).
"The state of Utah has a 20-year history of failed attempts at this and the root of that problem is the failure to recognize that these lands are national lands and everyone has a say over how they are managed," he said.
Tina Smith, a Park City resident, was also waiting in line with Helmke when the discussion ended. Smith said she didn’t have a question for the panelists, but, instead, wanted to make a direct statement.
"I am really concerned about the energy zones," Smith said. "When you look at the maps they want to drill-baby-drill and I feel like we are being sold down the river."
To view the Public Lands Initiative Draft, go to http://www.utahpli.com/
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