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The family of Heather and Keldon Brown are featured in the savebearsears.com website.  It is just part of a local grassroots effort to oppose the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. Kara Laws photo
The family of Heather and Keldon Brown are featured in the savebearsears.com website. It is just part of a local grassroots effort to oppose the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. Kara Laws photo
slideshow
Grassroots efforts may have delayed monument
Nov 29, 2016 | 1555 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The family of Heather and Keldon Brown are featured in the savebearsears.com website.  It is just part of a local grassroots effort to oppose the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. Kara Laws photo
The family of Heather and Keldon Brown are featured in the savebearsears.com website. It is just part of a local grassroots effort to oppose the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. Kara Laws photo
slideshow
With an historic election in the rear view mirror and the arrival of winter weather, time is ticking on the presidency of Barack Obama. In less than two months, Obama will be replaced in Washington, DC by Donald Trump. What he does between now and January 21, 2017 could have a significant impact on San Juan County. It has been four months since Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell led a delegation of federal officials to the area to investigate the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. A coalition of environmental groups and Native American tribes joined together to seek the designation of a 1.9 million acre national monument. The massive monument proposal includes approximately 38 percent of the total landmass of San Juan County, with large sections of private, state, BLM and Forest Service land included. The proposal was met with a mixed response at a public meeting hosted by Jewell in Bluff. Large groups of environmental and tribal supporters attended the meeting, including a large number of people from outside of San Juan County. Local residents spoke in favor of and opposed to the designation, leaving the impression to many observers that local residents were split on the proposal. In response, a group of local residents banded together in a grassroots effort to fight the proposal. Efforts in the community, in the media, with elected officials and on the bumpers of local cars have combined to build awareness of the significant local opposition to the monument. While there are still voices in favor of the proposal, including local residents who serve on the Navajo Nation Tribal Council, the voices opposed to the monument seem to have drowned out the voices of supporters in local circles. Every elected official who represents administrative efforts in San Juan County has signaled opposition to the proposal. The opposition ranges from City Councils and the County Commission, to officials in the state legislature and state government, to elected officials in the federal legislature. In fact, the only elected official who appeared on local ballots and who has not chimed in on the effort is Obama himself. The informal group that came together this summer to fight the monument has organized into the Stewards of San Juan. The leadership includes chairwoman Jamie Bayles, co-chairs Ryan Benally and Suzette Morris, treasurer Wendy Black, and secretary Eva Workman. Wendy Black has represented the group at recent meetings of the San Juan County Commission. At one of the initial meetings, Commissioners praised the local effort, saying it has had a significant impact. Commissioners said that significant credit for the delay in designating the monument is the result of the grassroots uprising. “I think that at the beginning of this, the government was set to declare the monument soon after the visit of Sally Jewell,” said Janet Wilcox. “But because of all that has happened to oppose the monument, the government has stepped back and taken a closer look.” Wilcox has headed up the effort to fight the designation through social and traditional media. The work has included letters to the Editor, response to articles and editorials, and even several political cartoons. “So many people have helped in so many ways,” said Wilcox. “This effort would not have been possible before the internet age. We have been able to have an impressive response despite limited funding and just a few organizational meetings. The internet certainly helped level the playing field.” Indeed the effort is particularly impressive considering the well-funded effort to promote the designation of a monument. “I would be interested in seeing a comparison of how much money both sides have spent,” stated Wilcox. “Tens of millions of dollars have been poured into the effort to declare a monument.” “Who knows, the Grand Staircase of the Escalante National Monument, which was declared by Bill Clinton in 1996, may have never been done in the age of the internet,” added Wilcox. Another part of the effort has been the development of a website, savebearsears.com. The website was designed to put faces with the families who could be most impacted by the monument designation. The website, a 100 percent volunteer effort, is run by Illuminated Moments, a Blanding-based business which paid for and hosts the site. On July 4, Cindy Bayles, studio manager at Illuminated Moments, started work on SaveBearsEars.com. The first article was published on July 20. Beginning July 21, Illuminated Moments and Brooke Pehrson Photography took to the mountains, where they photographed, recorded, and interviewed nearly 30 local families. The first profile, on the Kenny and Amber Black family, was published on the site on July 25. The stories of more than 50 families, representing more than 300 local residents, are currently featured on the site. Profiles on more than 20 additional families will be added in the near future. The Al and Shirley Clarke family composed an open letter, stating, “While outsiders threaten to make this place a playground and a spectator sight for travelers, the locals are fighting to protect the sacred nature of this place.” The Francom family lamented the visit of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to the area, stating “Sally Jewell’s token visit to our unspoiled Bear’s Ears mountain resulted in unsightly trash, new fire pits, trampled grass, and ugly ruts in the muddy meadow. This beautiful, sacred site was desecrated by people who ‘love’ this area (but have never been here before and have no interest in taking care of it).” Rob and Kathryn Wilcox worry about how the monument will take care of search and rescue efforts asking,  “Visitors underestimate the dangers and logistics that accompany this wilderness.  The National Park Service does NOT have their own Search and Rescue system.  They rely on the local Sheriff’s office in a crisis.   “The Bears Ears Monument would take in 1.9 million acres. How will our already over burdened law enforcement and Search and Rescue teams take care of that?” Most recently, Ryan Benally and Kara Laws met with Grandma Ada Benally, a Navajo elder, to talk about the monument and photograph her family for the website. After photos, they sat in Twin Rocks Café and Ada expressed her concerns as her granddaughter translated. Ada said, “Originally it is land we all shared to gather wood and collect medicinal plants important to us because they don’t grow anywhere else but near Bears Ears. Now I feel we can no longer gather plants or cut wood. I’m afraid we’ll freeze.” Ada said her grandson has already been told he cannot gather wood anymore and the family, knowing of the possibility of a monument, does not know where to turn to fight it. They are confused and frustrated. As Ada’s words turned to near tears, her granddaughter said, “She doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. She feels unwelcome on the land. She had to buy firewood this year, and we have never done that.” Ada Benally’s feature will be up on the website in the next week. Nicole and Ben Safrit, who are also featured on the site, worry about their livelihood. “It will limit use from the rural community,” said Ben. “Wood gathering is how I heat my home in the winter. Ranching is my livelihood. We need a high quantity of land to not overgraze the land. We need the mountains, as well as the desert country, to stay alive. “We hunt the land to fill our freezers with meat to feed us through the year. This is our culture. Making it a monument will limit our use by people who don’t understand our culture, nor have the history with the land to know what’s best for it. “The people that do the most for this land and for this county are ­– most of the time ­­– the locals, making it better for the benefit of ranching, benefit of our children, and for others.” The Joni and Derek Dickson family note the similarities between people who use land to support their families, “When it comes to respect, there are a lot of similarities and significances between my Diné traditional belief, the ranchers, and those who hunt/gather in a majority of San Juan County,” said Dickson. “We use this land as a resource for our prayers, our food, and to teach the future generation of children our culture and family traditions.” The site includes several Native American families, both Ute and Navajo, who interviewed in their native language. The profiles include cattle ranchers, business owners, city councilmen, teachers, veterans, and police officers. “What they hold in common is that these people love the land in a way that others may never understand,” explains Kara Laws. “When you depend on land, when you grow up on land, you appreciate it as more than just a pretty place. It becomes a part of you.” There have been more than 26,000 views in the four months the website has been live, averaging 50 to 1,300 hits per day. A petition was loaded to whitehouse.gov as one of the first efforts to fight the monument. It received approximately 15,000 signatures before it was removed at the end of a 30-day deadline. After this effort, a petition was added to savebearsears.com. The petition has gathered more than 3,100 signatures since it went up on August 18. This new petition will not expire or be removed. Laws reports that the website is moving forward and has been successful. The Google search ranking of the site increases with every visit to the site. Every time the site is shared, and every time a new family is published, the site climbs higher. A Google search of “Save Bears Ears” results in the local website listed near the top of the search results. However, a simple “Bears Ears” search results in a number of pro-monument sites. The local effort does not show up in the search results. SaveBearsEars.com also hosts a donation site that allows for things like parade floats, advertising, informational brochures, and to cover the costs of education efforts and spreading correct information. The site also lists other ways people can help fight against the proposed monument and provides links to communities that are battling the same fight in other areas. The website is also used as a resource for information about why many local residents oppose a monument designation, how a monument could impact the area, and has been a good landing page for reporters and citizens not in the area who look to learn more.
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Utility relief for Blanding residents
Nov 29, 2016 | 628 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Kara Laws Utility bills will drop, and utility payments will be easier to make in Blanding after the Blanding City Council decided to pass down savings to city residents. The decision was made at the November 22 meeting of the city council. First, the city council voted unanimously to pass down natural gas savings to residential and business consumers in Blanding City. This means the average family will save $20 to $30 on their monthly gas bill. Businesses can expect to save up to $400. Every five years or so, the city signs a contract to purchase natural gas. That rate has previously been $5.10. This year, Summit Energy has pre-purchased 60 percent of the city gas needs through the winter for $2.95. Other factors, such as transportation, savings for emergencies and general repair, and operating costs have not decreased. Overall, the 42 percent decrease in the city wholesale cost will result in a 19 percent discount for Blanding City residents. With the winter months looming, a reduced heating bill may be very welcome for city residents. The council also eliminated fees for using credit cards to pay utility bills. This decision came at the recommendation of City Finance Director Kim Palmer. The conversation about the recommendation was long and full of information. City Councilman Taylor Harrison pointed out that processing fees are higher for cards taken over the phone and considered just charging fees for payments made over the phone. Kim Palmer reminded the council of the added cost of sending paper bills, the additional charges if checks are returned, and the increased difficulty in getting bills paid. When bills are forgotten, the utilities are turned off on homes, adding cost to the city and stress to city residents. Palmer said that taking payment over the phone and in person, without additional charges, will cut costs to the city. After 25 minutes of conversation, Mayor Calvin Balch reminded the council that they are not voted in to tell people what to do and how to manage their lives. Instead, he said, they are voted in to make living in Blanding better. They are trusted with decisions that will improve Blanding. Shorty after that statement, the council voted unanimously to accept credit cards and eliminate the fees for utility bills. Credit cards or debit cards can be taken over the phone, online, or in person to take care of utility costs. In other topics, Blanding City has requested a “seat at the table” with the USDA Forest Service. The Forest Service is in the process of revising the Land Resource Management Plan for the Manti-La Sal National Forest. The City of Blanding requested to be a part of the talks and the revised plan, and the Forest Service agreed to grant the city “cooperating agency” status. In the past, the City of Blanding has been notified of changes, agreements, and regulations pertaining to the Manti-La Sal National Forest. However, until now, the city has yet to be a cooperating party in the decisions that are made. The city council voted to approve a Memorandum of Understanding between Blanding City and the Forest Service. More information will come as representatives are chosen and the revisions begin. City Engineer Terry Ekker presented a monthly water report that states annual precipitation is 18.5 percent of average. This was before the recent storms. The water year starts on October 1, so there is still plenty of time for rain and snow to fill that gap. While discussing the water, Mayor Balch suggested that Dry Wash Reservoir be fenced to keep cows out of the drinking water. Balch is concerned that the uranium mill is using the pure water in the spring while the city is left with dregs at the bottom of Dry Wash and Recapture reservoirs that the animals defecate, drink, and play in. Balch suggested the city start thinking about changing the trade agreement, so the water coming into homes is the best water available. City Manager Jeremy Redd said, “Your point is well taken,” and left the impression that it would be discussed in the future. Terry Ekker updated the council on sewer lagoon repairs after the pond walls were damaged by prairie dogs. The project is almost complete. The city controlled costs by purchasing their own supplies instead of going through a contractor. While this has worked in the city’s favor before, it did not turn out as well this time. The city purchased more than $30,000 in vinyl sheet pilings to keep the prairie dogs out of the ponds. However, the vinyl sheets are too fragile to drive into the hard soil. The pilings were replaced with metal pilings, but the city cannot return the vinyl and is looking for solutions to reduce the fiscal loss. During the repair process, a leak was discovered in the sewer lagoons. It has been fixed, which should help with water issues. City officials remind residents of several city ordinances. They point out that Blanding City is not a Home Owners Association and cannot control, fine, or force changes in yard or home appearance. The residents of Blanding are free to do as much or as little yard work as they like. They are also free to use their land as storage. While aesthetic nuisances do not fall within actionable offenses, the city attorney and Chief of Police remind residents that action can be taken “if the land befouls water, creates permeating foul odor, produces flies or mosquitos, collects grease, or obstructs public ways…” (City Code 4-2-2: Declaration of Nuisance). The city reminds residents that when snow comes, they need to move cars off the streets for snow removal, shovel walkways, and keep snow from driveways and walkways on their property.
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