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The State Board of Education wants to remain at the forefront of likely battles over school trust land involved in a proposed mining venture in Kane County.

Friday, the board approved staff action to intervene in an environmental group's request for an administrative review of a State Land Board decision that would facilitate the mining.The board unanimously reaffirmed its resolve to be recognized as a beneficiary of the trust lands with vital interest in how they are managed. The board should be directly involved in expected court battles over proposed mining on trust lands, members agreed.

On behalf of the board, State Superintendent Scott W. Bean earlier filed a petition to intervene in a review of the State Land Board's action to grant an easement over trust lands in Kane County.

The easements would allow the county to construct a road that would be used to transport coal from the Smokey Hollow area of the Kaiparowits coal basin. Andalex Resources is seeking federal and state approval for mining in the hollow.

Southern Utah Wilderness Association and Lawson LeGate of the Utah office of the Sierra Club requested the review of the land board's decision. The environmentalists claim the land board did not abide by its own rules in granting the easements.

A hearing will be held in early February to address both the State Board of Education petition to intervene and the SUWA request for review. If the issue cannot be resolved at that level, it would be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The proposed road would be constructed only if an existing Kane County road could not be used because of environmental opposition, said Carol Lear, legal counsel to the education board. She said the mining company had paid fair market value for the right to cross the trust lands.

Lear told the board the current flap is "only the tip of the iceberg." Environmental groups oppose any development of the Kaiparowits region of southern Utah, she said.

The proposed mine could produce significant revenue for education, Lear said.