It's easy to understand why some residents of tiny LaVerkin feel threatened by forces beyond their control. We have often echoed these concerns, which generally have to do with efforts by Congress and federal bureaucracies to lock up the land and the precious resources that could help the local economy. President Clinton's unilateral decision a few years ago to declare the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument was an outrageous violation of the spirit of representative government and hurt much of Southern Utah.
But to take these frustrations out on the United Nations is, well, just plain silly.
Even in its revised form, passed this week, the ordinance the LaVerkin City Council passed — declaring the city a United Nations free zone — does little to help the city. On the other hand, it does much to fuel the fires of rumor and misinformation.
One city councilman held up a map of the United States that was color-coded to show areas controlled by the United Nations. This apparently made for a nice visual aid, but it simply wasn't true. The U.N. passes only non-binding resolutions, which can be ignored by sovereign governments. Whatever the general assembly may have decided, the U.S. government still controls federal lands and waterways.
The same councilman was reported to have referred to farmers in Klamath Falls, Ore., who had their water turned off, "because of a fish or a bug." This, he implied, was evidence that the United Nations soon might be turning off drinking water in LaVerkin.
In fact, it was the United States Bureau of Reclamation that, because of a concern over suckerfish and coho salmon, decided last April to cut off water to an irrigation canal it built in Oregon in 1905 The folks in Oregon weren't confused about this. They didn't appeal to the United Nations. They protested to the federal government. This week, the government responded. Interior Secretary Gale Norton said the water in nearby lakes had again risen to acceptable levels for the fish and she was releasing 24.4 billion gallons of water to help the farmers.
Frankly, the entire episode was a case of misdirected priorities. The government should have put farmers ahead of fish. Even as an environmental move, it didn't make sense. Shutting off the canal also shut off food to thousands of eagles and migrating waterfowl downstream.
Decisions like this, emanating from far-away Washington, are frustrating — maddening, even. But they have nothing to do with the United Nations, difficult as that is for some people to believe.
The U.N. has launched some bad initiatives through the years, and it has done some good. That is to be expected in an organization that represents the interests of the world's many and diverse nations, each with its own peculiar interests. But the anti-U.N. conspiracy buffs ignore the way UNICEF has saved the lives of literally millions of sick and starving children, and they overlook other programs that help struggling Third World entrepreneurs with small loans.
In a complex world, it's easy to look for distant and ominous monsters to blame. But there is little excuse for codifying misinformation into a city ordinance — especially one that violates the Constitution it was intended to save.
As Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff recommended, LaVerkin ought to repeal its ordinance and get on with the business of running the city.