San Juan County will be new Interior Secretary's first stop, if confirmed
Jan 17, 2017 | 2631 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
San Juan County will be the first stop of the new Secretary of the Interior if he receives Senate approval for his position. Ryan Zinke, the nominee for Secretary of the Interior, made the commitment to Utah Sen. Mike Lee during his confirmation hearing on January 17. “I am absolutely committed to restoring trust,” said Zenke in response to a question by Lee. “If confirmed, I have committed to coming to Utah first and talking to the Governor and talking to the people on the ground.” The questioning revolved around the December 28, 2016 designation of the Bears Ears National Monument by President Barack Obama using the Antiquities Act. The 1.35-million acre monument includes 27 percent of the entire landmass of San Juan County. “The seemingly limitless power granted to the President of the United States under the Antiquities Act is troubling,” said Lee before adding, “I hope that if you are confirmed for this position, that one of the first things you do is to come to Utah.” “I encourage you to talk to some of the people who have been effected by the monument designation by the President on December 28. “He designated 1.35 million acres in San Juan County, our state’s poorest county, against the overwhelming opposition of the local population of San Juan County, against the opposition of all six members of our state’s congressional delegation, against the position of our Governor, Lt. Governor, Atty General and all of our statewide elected officials. “Will you consider visiting Utah and talking to the people affected by this monument designation, and based on what you hear, consider having a conversation with President Trump about revisiting this unfortunate step?” In a previous question, Lee asked Zenke, “Do you view local support as a necessary precondition to the creation of a National Monument under the Antiquities Act?” Zenke replied, “It is absolutely critical to have state and local support on a monument that they participate in.” Outlined hios approach if confirmed, Zenke said, “If you start at the local community level, the grass roots, and you build and there is participation, then you get ahead of the problem.” Zenke said that he would “get community support and make sure your Governor and your elected leaders are behind you.” Zenke currently serves as a Congressman representing Montana.
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The Citadel ruins in the new Bears Ears National Monument.  Justin Sharick photo
The Citadel ruins in the new Bears Ears National Monument. Justin Sharick photo
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Blanding City Council addresses Bears Ears issues
Jan 17, 2017 | 524 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Kara Laws The designation of Bears Ears National Monument on December 28, 2016 was a main topic of discussion at the January 10 meeting of the Blanding City Council. Councilman Robert Ogle and City Manger Jeremy Redd presented a draft press release about the newly designated monument. According to Redd, the release featured three main points: 1) the city council opposes the national monument designation, 2) Blanding city residents will continue to do their best with what they have, and 3) Blanding will continue to welcome visitors, as it has always done. Councilman Ogle expressed his desire for the press release to “have teeth” and encouraged the council to make it apparent that the City of Blanding does not support the monument. Councilman Joe B. Lyman, however, said he believed the press release should be softer and more inviting. Mayor Calvin Balch expressed his concern that the city council might be trying to speak for the whole of the city when not everyone is against the monument. “I don’t think there are 200 cars in Blanding that have the no monument sticker,” said Mayor Balch. He pressed for a change in the language to ensure the city council is not speaking for every resident, but only for the city council. Mayor Balch added, “We have a responsibility to represent all of the people – one hundred percent. We have a responsibility to everyone else.” The council consented and agreed to change the press release, so it would not speak for every resident of Blanding but would be the opinion of the council. However, that is where most agreement ended. Ogle urged the city to “take a stand” and speak out. Councilman Taylor Harrison agreed, acknowledging the Presidential decision overlooked what local and state officials were asking for. Harrison made it clear that he does not believe this story is over yet. Mayor Balch suggested that only “two or three” cattle ranchers would be impacted by the designation and that nothing of consequence had happened in Escalante, UT since the designation of the Grand Staircase National Monument in 1996. When Harrison said, “1.3 million acres is going to affect more than just three cattle ranchers,” the mayor disagreed. There are 43 grazing allotments and 661 mineral allotments within the Bears Ears National Monument. While the process of developing a monument management plan will take years to complete, the designation could have significant impacts throughout the area, including canyoneering, trail guides, hunting guides, trappers, photographers, gravel pit owners, loggers, mill workers, hunter, wood cutters, herb gatherers and more. Members of the Blanding Area Travel Council expressed concern that residents of Blanding might become hostile toward tourists. Business owner Jared Barrett said he would like to see local businesses, especially the tourism businesses, take advantage of the designation and benefit from it. After discussion and questions by local residents, City Manager Jeremy Redd said the city will forward information on what will or will not change in in the monument as the city receives it. Two other residents spoke to the city council, sharing facts about the monument, discussing how it will impact them personally, and encouraging the council to speak out. Others asked the council to not allow a monument to influence a change in Blanding City liquor laws, to welcome tourism instead, and to help give local people and businesses a direction to move. Councilwoman Perkins said Blanding City no longer has a Chamber of Commerce. She suggested that any businesses who are worried, would like to pull together, or would like to take advantage of the monument should talk to the San Juan County Chamber of Commerce. The press release was tabled for further discussion at the January 24 meeting of the city council. In other business, the city is deciding on projects for upcoming years. City Manager Redd gave the council several options in a work session meeting and suggested they start coming up with what they would like to see happen in the city. The Wellness Center was brought up, with ideas to expand the center or build an indoor pool. (See the separate story here.) County and state fire officials, Heber Heyder and Jason Johnson, gave an update on fire suppression efforts. Header said 2016 was an easy fire year, with the largest fire for Blanding City being 46 acres on a wheat field north of town. Johnson congratulated Blanding on being the first city in the area to adopt the new fire policy. Johnson made it clear that Blanding was not transferring all responsibility to the state with the new fire policy. By adopting the fire policy, Blanding agrees to do their part to prevent fire, while receiving a financial cushion from the state. Johnson said Blanding is responsible for their fire prevention efforts. The council has approved a letter of support for the Blanding Irrigation Company to install a new line above Dry Wash Reservoir to pull more water into area reservoirs. The City of Blanding trades water with the Blanding Irrigation Company. City officials said, “Any project that can transport more water to reservoirs in our area is a major investment in the future viability of our community.” The sewer system upgrade east of town will continue as planned and will provide some relief for the already overcrowded sewer system. Mayor Balch mentioned that three council positions will be on the 2017 ballot, including two council members and the mayorship. More information can be found at blanding.ut.gov.
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Indoor pool issue in Blanding keeps returning
Jan 17, 2017 | 38 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Kara Laws Making improvements to the Blanding Wellness Center was raised again during the process of considering future city projects. One of the projects that was mentioned is to add an indoor pool to the Blanding Wellness Center for year-round use. Questions if the city could cover the costs of a year-round pool have been asked since the facility opened. The council considered an indoor pool when the facility was approved in 2009 and determined that it was not cost effective. A seasonal outdoor pool is part of the Wellness Center. It opens during the summer months and closes during the cooler part of the year. Councilman Lyman said an indoor pool was never part of the original project, despite the many area residents who have believed for years that an indoor pool will still happen. However, the idea of an indoor pool did not end there and has continued to come up in city council minutes over the years. In a recent city council planning meeting, Councilwoman Kd Perkins said she is often asked about an indoor pool and is interesting in looking into it as a future city project. City Manager Jeremy Redd estimates that the cost of adding in indoor pool at this point would be approximately $600,000, and would add approximately $50,000 per year in operating costs. A pass for a family of five is approximately $60 a month. As a result, it would take an additional 70 family passes each year just to pay for the annual operating costs. The discussion of Wellness Center improvements started in the work meeting, came up again in city council, and then spilled over to social media. The origins of the Blanding Wellness Center go back to 2003, when the College of Eastern Utah approached the city with the idea of working together to create a wellness center at the college. The plan changed through 2004 and 2005 as the city pulled out of working with CEU, re-vamped the current pool and set aside funds to develop a completely separate wellness center. In 2009, the city received bids for Wellness Center designs, both with and without an indoor lap pool. Later that year, a revised Wellness Center grant request was approved that did not include an indoor pool. In October, 2009, a contract was approved. The next month, the city council considered re-submitting a grant application for an additional $475,000 to build an indoor pool as part of the Wellness Center. After consideration, consent was not given to send the application. In a recent un-official, online poll, (which did not mention a pool to start) more than 150 people agreed with a statement that the Wellness Center needs an indoor pool. Several elderly residents said a pool is needed for physical therapy and winter exercise, when walking outdoors is cold and has the risk of falls. Janet Wilcox said, “Now that Blanding has better health/hospital facilities, there will be more older folks who choose to remain here. An indoor pool will become even more important to the older generation who is not benefited much by this facility during the cold months.” One idea discussed in the survey is a bubble to cover the outdoor pool in the cold months and allow it to be used throughout the year. Kristin Black hopes for an indoor pool, saying, “I have a child that has a lot of physical therapy, and a pool would be wonderful for him.” Kimberly Hiatt added, “A city should advocate for its citizens’ health especially in this digital age and where obesity rates in our country have skyrocketed. Sure, it boils down to individual responsibility, but … quality of life/the opportunities to improve citizens’ quality of life should be a council-person’s concern.” Diane Balch said, “I think it is time Blanding City started thinking about the Senior Citizens, who have paid a lot of taxes in this city. Most of us would benefit from an indoor pool because of therapy for bad hips or knees.”
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Monticello City Council addresses Bears Ear issues
Jan 17, 2017 | 365 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Eric Niven It has been almost a month since the last meeting of the Monticello City Council, but in that time several important and controversial topics have arisen. They were discussed at the January 10 meeting of the council. Local business owner Tyler Hall appealed to the Council to consider a poll to determine how Monticello residents feel about the Bears Ears National Monument. Hall said Senator Mike Lee stated that major support for the Monument came from outside San Juan County, and the residents of the county were ignored. Hall contends that the elected officials taking a stand against the Monument have their hands tied because they have no statistical evidence of how residents of Monticello actually feel about the Monument. Hall proposed that Monticello and other communities in San Juan County poll residents to “provide elected officials with the numbers to answer the question in Washington of what the true voice of San Juan County is.” Councilman Blaine Nebeker said he believed the issue should be left up to the elected officials. Nebeker cited a proclamation of the Council which opposed the Monument. Council members expressed a variety of opinions, but the conclusion was that due to cost, logistics, possible bias, and more, polling Monticello residents is not an option. Suggestions from the public included doing a Gallup poll or involving a university in creating a poll. Another topic that energized the council was an unexpected $9,500 bill to replace the engine in a city vehicle. City Manager Ty Bailey reports that although the vehicle was under warranty and the maintenance schedule was adhered to, specific information required for the warranty was incomplete, and the warranty was denied. Council members asked why the paperwork is incomplete. Bailey confirmed that the scheduled maintenance was followed, but the records were incomplete and the City would have to budget for the loss. “This is a hard earned lesson,” said Councilman George Rice. Bailey requested the Council explore the possibility of participating in a H-2B Petition for Seasonal Employees, which provides for non-citizen workers with work permits to come to Monticello for seasonal work. “The issue is getting the golf course ready. Most of the work required for this takes place before and after school lets out,” said Bailey. City Recorder Cindi Holyoak explained that the program is “like a federal government temp agency.” The Council approved exploring the option. Other issues addressed at the meeting include revisiting the city priority list for Community Impact Board projects, ratifying an amendment to allow annual payments to the San Juan Water Conservancy District, praising the holiday decorations and thanking city employees who have been writing grants.
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