clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

UTAH, U.S. CLOSE IN ON LAND-TRADE SOLUTION

State officials unveiled a proposal Wednesday to solve a generations-old political thorn in the side of state-federal relations: How to exchange tens of thousands of acres of state land inside national parks, Indian reservations and national forests.

"We're so close to closing the window on this problem," said Cy Jamison, national director of the Bureau of Land Management. "We must keep banging our heads until it happens."Inholdings - state land locked inside federal reservations and largely useless to the state - have been a nagging problem to state officials for years. A committee of state officials has been meeting quietly with federal authorities to draft a bill that would trade away inholdings in national parks, two Indian reservations and U.S. Forest Service areas.

The bill has the support of the state's congressional delegation and is expected to be introduced in Congress within a week, state officials say.

State officials presented the plan Wednesday to Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan, who, with Jamison, met with Gov. Norm Bangerter to discuss state-federal land management problems, including land exchanges.

"My feeling right now is that we want to work it out," Lujan said.

Environmentalists said the basic idea is sound. But they criticized the state attempting to get federal tracts that environmentalists want protected as wilderness.

The proposal is three-pronged. State property to be given up on the Navajo and Goshute reservations, almost 33,000 acres, in exchange for BLM land in San Juan and Grand counties on an acre-for-acre, value-for-value trade.

The Grand and San Juan property are described as near Cane Creek, the Hall's Crossing Airport, near the entrance to the Needles Section of Canyonlands National Park, Spanish Valley, Montezuma Creek and Wray Mesa.

For giving up 80,000 acres of state land within national parks, Utah wants 15 percent more from all federal mineral royalties produced on federal land in the state. The state now gets 50 percent of the royalties.

This increase would provide a "revenue stream" to be earmarked for Utah schools. But the permanency of the arrangement could be a sticking point. "We should not have to pay for the lands over and over and over," Jamison said.

The third provision calls for Utah to receive coal reserves in exchange for state inholdings in national forests. The problem, however, is the method by which those reserves are valued.

Coal producers pay an 8 percent royalty, with half of that money returning to the state. Utah wants the exchange based on the federal government's share, not the portion the state already receives. The federal government has said no, that coal reserves should be valued at the full 8 percent.

Gov. Norm Bangerter had set up a steering committee to work out a solution to the long-festering issue of state land inholdings within federal reservations. The steering committee reported to Bangerter a couple of times on the bill.

"He authorized us to go to Washington, D.C., and visit with the Utah delegation on the bill," said John Harja, senior analyst in the state Office of Planning and Budget. "We did that last week."

Bangerter wants the inholding problem solved but has been frustrated by federal land administrators who have been uncooperative. "It raises the hair on the back of my neck when we're being told these lands don't have a value (in an exchange)," he said.

Environmentalists complain they have not had enough time to review the proposal, and they cite some serious concerns.

Some of the federal land sought in Grand and San Juan counties is part of the BLM wilderness bill introduced by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah. Although Owens supported the land-exchange bill in principle, he didn't know the details about where the land was, Harja said, adding the state is willing to adjust the proposals.

"Frankly, it's a first go-round," Harja said. "The list of lands to be acquired is very much open to discussion."

Ken Rait, issues coordinator for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said environmentalists favor land trades to eliminate state inholdings in critical areas and think the Forest Service part of the bill shows a good way to proceed.

But he objected to the committee informing the conservationists about the bill at such a late date and asking for their comments after the draft was drawn up.

Concerning the reservation inholdings, he said, "Our question is, why is the state only looking to trade for lands in southeastern Utah? If they are really looking to benefit the (state school) trust . . . then they should be looking in places where they can really generate revenues."

"Whether there's any value in the bill or not is way beyond the point," said Lawson LeGate, the Sierra Club's associate Southwest representative.

"You can't give somebody a week to respond and say, `Are you with us or against us?' "