The state of Utah, the Ute Indian Tribe and Duchesne and Uintah counties have all signed off on a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to discussions to reach settlements on a number of issues the entities had formerly been at odds over.

The issues addressed in the memorandum of understanding include:- Promoting legislation seeking the return of severance tax money collected on tribal trust lands.

- Working on a united front at the federal level for transfer of mineral ownership on the Hillcreek Extension back to the tribe.

- Discussion of rights of way in Duchesne and Uintah counties.

- Resolving fishing and hunting rights off tribal trust lands for both tribal and non-tribal members.

John Harja, resource planning director in the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, said approval of the memorandum of understanding "indicates each party would prefer to discuss the issues, rather than seek litigation."

While a court can solve one or two issues, the decision typically raises questions about a number of other issues, Harja explained. By working in concert toward a common goal, each entity will be able "to agree to disagree" in order to reach a compromise that will settle the issue in question to the benefit of all.

What's the next step? Harja said the first item of business is drafting legislation to seek the redistribution of severance tax money. Sen. Alarik Myrin, R-Altamont, is in the process of writing the bill, tentatively named the Uintah Basin Revitalization Act.

Currently the state keeps all severance tax revenue collected on tribal trust lands for use in the general budget fund. The new legislation will seek a return of severance tax money collected on tribal trust land to the Uintah Basin Revitalization Fund. A board comprised of representatives from the tribe, state and counties would oversee distribution of that revenue to be spent on local government projects such as housing and roads, and used to spur new well production activity.

Harja said because it's unknown just how much of the severance tax revenue can be directly attributed to oil and gas production on tribal trust lands, records must be researched to determine a dollar amount. Once that factor is known, a formula would be designed for funding allocation to local entities.

"Once we reach an agreement on the tax and figures, the governor will support the bill," Harja said. The governor has already given his approval to the memorandum of understanding.

Discussions over hunting and fishing rights off tribal trust lands are set to begin sometime in January, said Harja. "We would like to see a permanent resolution for distribution of all hunting and fishing rights to Indians and non-Indians off reservation trust lands," he said.

"They (the tribe) have a claim and we have to resolve it," Harja said, referring to basic Indian law concepts that provide tribal members with "aboriginal hunting rights" on state-administered lands.

The topic of rights of way for roads, and in some cases utilities, is also slated for resolution through the agreement. The tribe and the counties have been at odds over just who holds the rights of way over certain roads.

Perhaps the hardest issue will be the return of tribal mineral rights on the Hillcreek Extension. That's not because of potential bickering between state, county and local governments, but because that issue involves the federal government - or more specifically, the money the federal government collects through its ownership of those minerals.

Half of the money generated from production of minerals on the Hillcreek Extension is distributed by the federal government to the state of Utah, which dedicates the proceeds to education. The tribe, with the backing of the counties and the state, will move through federal channels in an attempt to regain ownership of those minerals.

Harja said that if they are successful, tribal officials have agreed that the state will continue to receive its 50 percent share of the mineral revenues.