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Utah Legislature: Lawmakers take states' rights fight to public lands

SALT LAKE CITY — A pair of Utah County Republican lawmakers want to shepherd a trio of bills using eminent domain to wrest control of public lands they say are tied up by an out-of-balance, out-of-control federal bureaucracy.

The sponsors, with unanimous support voiced Wednesday by a legislative appropriations committee, not only want to tap some School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration land for development, but also yank back some of the parcels of oil-rich land withdrawn by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar a year ago this month.

Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, and Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, said the groundswell of the states' rights movement means the time is ripe for the battle, which they envision playing out before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Citing a quote by Alexander Hamilton, Herrod said it is time to sound the alarm on behalf of the people and be the mouthpiece of discontent.

"People in Utah are discontent," he said. "We want to be in control of our destiny."

Both he and Sumsion said that, because the federal government has denied right-of-way access to SITLA property via roads as short as three-quarters of a mile, development and revenue opportunities have been squelched.

Three parcels of property where that access has been denied will be a shot across the bow at the overly stringent federal policies that have not only left taxpayers in a lurch, but also jeopardized funding dollars for public education, Herrod said. "We really have not become a true state, because we are not in control of our destiny."

The sponsors say estimates show that SITLA forfeited $139 million in revenue because of Salazar's actions, and the state lost $3 billion in general fund money.

They propose taking trust fund revenues of $1 million the first year, going up to $3 million in subsequent appropriations to fund the legal donnybrook.

Sumsion added that an upcoming teleconference with lawmakers from 30 other states shows strident support for jumping on this states' rights wagon to return some federal lands to state control.

Rep. Kerry Gibson, R-Ogden and co-chairman of the natural resources committee, said he, too, believed the timing was right for such a dramatic fight.

"The mentality of the people right now — 10 years ago we were not quite as fed up like we are now," he said. "To me this is much more likely that we can accomplish this in the current environment."

SITLA officials were cautious, however.

"I agree we have a problem," said board chairman John Ferry. "It is out of balance, and it is out of control, and something needs to be done. … But we work with these people all the time. The last thing I want to do is get on their short side. … If you are going to take out the king, make sure you do it in the first shot."

Wednesday's unveiling of the measures before the committee precedes a noon press conference today in the lobby of the west House building, where Sumsion and Herrod will explain their legislative push in more detail.

To view their measures online, go to and search for HB323 and HB143.