Commissioners made it clear that they object to the master leasing plan on all levels. Commissioner Bruce Adams said the current BLM resource management plan, which the county was involved in, took five or six years to develop, “Now they come back and want to do another layer on top of the RMP. We object to the whole process. We object to them now including potash in the master leasing,” said Adams.
The letter states, “Mineral exploration and development have been a significant part of San Juan County’s economy for decades. Mineral industry has suffered in recent years due to market fluctuation and increased regulation placed on exploration and extraction of minerals. San Juan County has suffered a significant reduction in its tax base as a result of the depressed mineral market.
“The fact that the MLP process may take at least three years or more to complete before new mineral leases can be issued will further delay the opportunity the county has to improve its economy through mineral exploration and development.”
One agency immediately impacted by the BLM Master Leasing Plan is the K2O potash program. In an effort to help K2O move forward with potash exploration and development, the Commission signed a resolution stating their expectation that the BLM honor the policies set in the county general plan regarding mineral development.
It said the county expects the BLM to proceed outside the master leasing plan for oil and gas development, to exempt K2O from the master leasing plan without delay and to facilitate approval of the project.
The resolution states that the K2O potash project was already well underway before the decision concerning the master leasing plan was made by the BLM. The county asked that the BLM recognize the significant impacts the sudden inclusion of potash in the master leasing plan will have on the economy of San Juan County.
The commission said they support job creation, county revenue enhancement and resource utilization and urged the BLM to reduce regulatory burdens they have placed on the potash development. They point out in the resolution that San Juan County has one of the smallest tax bases of any county in Utah due to the percentage of federal owned land in the county, stating that 92 percent of the county is managed by tribal, federal and state agencies.
The county general plan, which was amended in 2008, contains policies for the appropriate use of public lands within the county. The General Plan states that it is the intent of the county to achieve and maintain a continuing yield of mineral resources in the public land region at the highest suitable levels.
The county said the Moab office of the BLM has only recently sought to include potash in the master leasing plan for oil and gas that they are currently developing. The county contends that by doing so, the BLM has introduced adverse factors and considerable delay into the planning of a project already well under way.
They add that K2O has worked diligently for several years to keep the project consistent with the county general plan and to mitigate negative impacts. K20 has already drilled and located potash on state leases in the Hatch Point area and has a memo of understanding with BLM in the area.
The project is expected to create hundreds of valuable new jobs in the county to pay tax revenues exceeding $19 million, effectively doubling the county’s current tax base, in addition to lease fee royalties.
It is the opinion of the San Juan County Commission that any delay by the BLM will significantly delays the benefit of jobs and tax revenue at a time when both are desperately needed by the county.
In addition, the commission unanimously adopted a resolution to participate as a joint plaintiff in a lawsuit being brought against the federal government due to their attempt to close the Arizona Strip to multiple use and uranium removal.
The resolution states that the Federal Government refused to coordinate the proposed withdrawal of lands from multiple use on the Arizona strip in spite of repeated efforts by the county to coordinate with the government.
The county states that the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issued by the BLM is flawed, insufficient, inadequate, misleading and does not comply with laws set by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The resolution states that the county and citizens are harmed environmentally and economically by the lack of coordination and the flawed EIS, invokes local government’s rights to coordination on such decisions and challenges the final EIS of the BLM.
Commissioners said it is in the best interest of the county to join the lawsuit with Kane, Piute and Garfield counties in Utah and Mohave County, AZ. The Coalition challenges the removal of these lands from multiple use as violating the procedures of Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and asks that the court set aside the withdrawal in its entirety.
Commissioner Phil Lyman pointed out a huge study 20 years ago left the area open to uranium because it was determined there was not an impact.
Lyman added that the Arizona Strip is one area that was deliberately left for uranium production because of the large uranium deposits there.
“Now to come in after all of that and say that the one spot that we left open we are going to take it away also just won’t work,” said Lyman. “We feel like it’s unconstitutional. San Juan County has such a huge vested right in this, and it makes sense to support this lawsuit... Whatever they do in Arizona, they can do anyplace else, and we don’t like the idea of shutting that down.”
Commissioner Adams said, “The County hasn’t committed any funds, but it will allow us in the future to commit funds. We are trying to protect uranium processing at the mill in Blanding.”
Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy said a resolution of support passed in Sweetwater as well.
The commission unanimously adopted a resolution supporting Otero County, NM in a lawsuit in which the federal government claims it has preeminent authority to regulate and control the management and use of property in the county.
The resolution states that San Juan County recognizes the right of governance belonging to the states and to the counties. The resolution cited the Tenth Amendment, which reserves all rights to States that are not specifically granted to the federal government. The commission expressed support for Otero County and the rights of counties in general. They will send $1,000.
In other business, Commissioners accepted the resignation of Philip Palmer as chairman of the Blanding Cemetery District. Palmer served as a volunteer for the cemetery district board for more than 25 years. The commission will begin advertising to fill the position on the three member board.
Commissioner Lyman expressed thanks for Palmer’s work through all the challenges.
“The cemetery has been run very efficiently and we appreciate your service,” added Commissioner Adams. “These kinds of volunteers make this county a great place to live.”