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Staircase plan on fast track to completion

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Cooperation between local and national government officials has put facilities for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on the fast track to completion.

At a meeting Wednesday between Kane County commissioners and state and federal officials, monument manager Jerry Meredith and Brad Barber, from the state Economic Development Office, outlined the proposed distribution of the infrastructure of the monument."It's to your credit that this has happened," Meredith told the commissioners and Kanab Mayor Karen Alvey. "These agreements, instead of infighting, is why this has all worked. You did a good job."

Meredith said the facilities could be only a year away from the start of construction because of the agreements reached among the cities and counties.

Leaders of various southern Utah communities have pushed for inclusion in decisions about the monument. Kane County Commissioner Joe Judd said the decisions Meredith's group reached seemed fair for the towns involved.

The monument's headquarters will be located in Kanab, in a building the city will build and the Bureau of Land Management will lease, Meredith said. The headquarters will house an auditorium, a visitors center and office space for monument administrators.

The BLM's Kanab resource area offices will also be moved into the new building, said BLM area manager Verlin Smith.

"The bottom line is the BLM is committed to these things," Smith said.

In a more surprising announcement, Meredith said a visitor contact station will be built in the remote Lake Powell community of Big Water, 20 miles northwest of Page, Ariz. The facility will include restrooms, an information center and an amphitheater for monument films.

A small visitors center also will be built in Glendale, another small community 20 miles east of Zion National Park. The Glendale center will have display space, restrooms and other amenities.

Meredith described the three cities as "gateway communities" of the monument and stressed their geographical importance to the monument's success.

Meredith said the entire planning process was still a year from being completed. The BLM plans to get money from the federal government this year for additional planning, and officials hope to acquire funds next year to begin building the facilities.

President Clinton used a 90-year-old law to create the monument in 1996 without congressional approval. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, and other congressmen have made attempts to slow or stop the monument's creation.

Developers have criticized the monument, which will swallow up coal deposits on the Kaiparowits Plateau, among other usable resources. The monument also came under disapproval from the residents of Kanab, who held rallies and petition drives to protest its establishment.