While Thursday's snowstorm prevented Gov. Mike Leavitt from appearing in person to kick off SmartUTAH, it didn't stop him from conducting a teleconference with area officials to discuss a variety of issues of local concern.

The governor was updated on a variety of concerns as wide-ranging as the Book Cliffs Initiative, utility deregulation, the endangered species act, water issues and the Ute Tribe's status as a sovereign government.Jim Lekas, a Uintah County sportsmen representative, talked to the governor about the pending Book Cliffs Initiative. Lekas and Ute Tribe Business Committee member Raymond Murray questioned why the state allowed the initiative to move forward without a comprehensive environmental assessment on thousands of acres of land in Uintah County. The land has been purchased by conservation groups and then donated to the state, ostensibly to promote elk herds.

Some say the initiative is designed to prohibit development of vast tracts of mineral-rich land in Uintah County and do away with the multiple-use land concept.

Leavitt encouraged Lekas and his group to continue discussions with Ted Stewart, state director of natural resources, to find common ground on the issue. A few a months ago a Book Cliffs cattle rancher filed a lawsuit which has put the initiative on hold.

A bill expected to be introduced during the 1997 Legislative session that would deregulate electric utilities was the topic of conversation between the governor and Moon Lake Electric Association general manager Grant Earl. The bill, being introduced on behalf of large industrial customers is "very one-sided," said Earl. "Big customers can lower their power bill at the expense of smaller consumers," he stated.

Forty states are involved in studying this very issue, Leavitt commented, adding that such deregulation appears inevitable.

"I personally think it is a trend that will continue to grow.

"This is a hot topic . . . the concern isn't so much that it happens, the concern is that it doesn't cause so much disruption in our rate system that it hurts someone."

Concerns were also raised over costs rural Utah will have to pay under a proposed surcharge by the Utah Department of Transportation of $1 per linear foot for new utility lines, such as fiber optic cables. Leavitt said he wants the issue resolved before any legislation makes its debut.

"Their (UDOT) current course may be a little more aggressive than we need," he said.

Duchesne County commissioner John Swasey told the governor that federal regulations regarding the Endangered Species Act have commissioners concerned and frustrated.

Leavitt jokingly told Swasey to "get in line."

According to Swasey, next year the federal government will apparently require 90,000 acre-feet of water to be diverted to the lower Duchesne River to conduct biological studies on what many residents call "trash fish," which have been identified as endangered species by the government.

A bill to "reconcile" the Endangered Species Act failed to move because it got caught up in congressional bipartisan bickering, Leavitt explained. The short-term answer to the problem is for communities to say, "Let's come up with a habitat plan ourselves, instead of dancing to the tune the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is calling."