If Utah's Department of Natural Resources undertakes the management of sovereign lands underneath navigable bodies of water, it also wants all of the income generated by the lands - income that now goes to education.
Natural Resources Director Dee Hansen told a legislative task force Monday he could use the income to develop recreational facilities on the Great Salt Lake that would ultimately create a return to the state through tourism.However, education leaders would be reluctant to give up all the money generated on the sovereign lands, said Margaret Bird, a spokeswoman for beneficiaries of the state's trust lands. Currently, the bulk of the income from the sovereign lands goes to education, with the exception of returns from brine shrimp harvesting, which go to the Division of Wildlife Resources.
The Legislature's School Trust Lands Task Force heard both opinions but did not act on proposed legislation that would shift sovereign lands management from the State Division of Lands and Forestry to the department. The proposal suggests taking 20 percent of the sovereign lands income for the Land Grant Maintenance Account to cover management costs, with the remainder divided equally between the department and education.
"Give us the whole thing (all of the income), and we'll use it to enhance the facilities on the lake. That would increase tourism and revenues and create an indirect benefit to education," Hansen said.
Sovereign lands belong to the state in general. Trust lands are designated to specific beneficiaries. The task force is considering several issues that would relieve the lands division of any responsibilities other than managing the trust lands.
Over the past two years, the task force has studied the trust lands and tried to develop management processes that would enhance income to the beneficiaries. Besides the sovereign lands, the division now oversees fire control and forestry, additional nontrust responsibilities.
Hansen told the task force that removing fire control and forestry from the division would be inefficient and costly to taxpayers.
Lands Division Director Dick Mitchell told the task force that sovereign lands are the most onerous responsibility he has that is not related to the trust lands. He suggested transfer of their management to the department.
Bird told the legislative panel income from the sovereign lands could grow significantly in the near future as salt royalties are increased. Education should share in that benefit, she said.
The task force will continue its discussion next month.