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HOUSE OKS BILL TO BUY LAND FOR MILITARY

SHARE HOUSE OKS BILL TO BUY LAND FOR MILITARY

A bill to acquire privately owned islands of land within Utah's Camp Williams - where live artillery shells fly overhead - blasted through the House Tuesday on a 397-1 vote.

But Utah congressmen were not entirely pleased.The bill has troublesome provisions, which they hope the Senate will remove. Otherwise, military use of Camp Williams land would terminate in 15 years, unless renewed by Congress. And the bill would force the military to allow the Interior Department to oversee some base operations.

"I am not completely pleased with the product that finally has reached the floor," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah. "I trust that we can beat out most of the lumps in conference" after Senate consideration of the issue.

But Nielson proceeded with the bill to trade 834 acres of private land - which is dangerously in or near artillery ranges - for 867 acres of federal land away from the base, which straddles the boundary between Utah and Salt Lake counties anyway.

"Civilian injuries have occurred on the range. One child was killed," Nielson said in a floor speech. "Because this bill offers a solution with little or no cost to the treasury, it would be unconscionable not to seize the opportunity we now have."

The bill would also officially set aside all federal land within base boundaries for military use. Some is still technically public-access land administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

Nielson was joined in support of the bill by Reps. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and Wayne Owens, D-Utah.

"Shells from 105mm howitzers are fired over private land," Hansen said. "Civilian injuries have occurred in the past and something must be done to prevent future accidents from happening. This bill goes to solve the problem."

Owens told the House, "HR-988 will permit us to keep our military trained and our civilians out of the line of fire."

The objectionable portions of the bill were added by the staff of a House Interior subcommittee.

Nielson's staff admitted it didn't notice the changes until after they were made by the subcommittee, then were unable to alter the bill in the House - and now hope for changes in the Senate where Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, is running a similar bill. The Bush Administration also opposes the provisions.

The troublesome parts include:

Forcing all withdrawal of Camp Williams lands for military purposes to expire in 15 years, unless renewed by Congress. It requires the Department of Defense to prepare an environmental impact statement on continued withdrawal of camp land, which is contaminated with munitions within 12 years.

While the Department of Defense is responsible for general management of the camp, the Interior Department would become responsible for protection of wildlife, the control of predators, and permitted recreation and the prevention and suppression of range fires.