Office of Congressman John Curtis pays visit to Blanding to hear what residents have to say

The Blanding community recently had an important visitor last week and the Blanding City Council explained why at the February 9 council meeting.

Larry Ellertson, of Congressman John Curtis’s office, was in Blanding getting to know the people of Blanding and to see what they think.

Ellertson said Curtis wants to represent small government, rural areas, and responsible land use.

Mayor Joe B. Lyman talked with Ellertson about the image or the impression that the press has given to Blanding in relation to Bears Ears National Monument. The council believes Blanding has been largely misrepresented and brought up the concerns of the community.

City Manager David Johnson said it is a great thing to have Ellertson in town and having local residents express their concerns regarding Bears Ears.

The officials were also able to talk about housing shortages in the area and hope to get some help in getting these issues addressed.

In relation to Bears Ears, new city councilmember Kellen Nielsen brought up the Blanding visitor center. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) may have positions open for liaisons that could potentially work at the visitor center to educate visitors about Bears Ears.

Johnson said, “We are joining the conversation with the BLM to create some consistent messaging around the communities about caring for the area.”

Water was another large topic of the night. The January water report shows that the mountain snow pack is not looking good with precipitation currently under 60 percent of normal.

City Engineer Terry Ekker said it’s pretty safe to say the city won’t have a green water year. Whether it’s a yellow or orange status will be determined at a later date, with a goal to make that determination in early April.

The irrigators may need to start pumping water from Recapture Reservoir to the Third Reservoir before irrigation begins. Councilmember Logan Monson asked of the cost if the city were to begin pumping now and then it snows a lot.

Ekker said that it costs about $40 an acre foot to pump the water and it could be a $5,000 gamble.

Johnson suggested that a $5,000 gamble may be worth it if the irrigators can’t access water.

Ekker said the Third Reservoir is down to 150 acre-feet of water. It would take two or three weeks of pumping to fill the Third Reservoir from Recapture.

The absence of Blanding City polling locations was discussed. Councilmember Monson stated that he talked to the Lieutenant Governor about the issue but it is a county issue, not a state issue.

Elections in Blanding are entirely through mailed ballot, with in-person polling locations on election day in Monticello, Montezuma Creek, Oljato, and Navajo Mountain.

Councilmembers expressed concern that Blanding does not have a polling location for residents, even though it is the largest community in the county.

It was suggested that during the last general election mail-in ballots did not arrive in time and residents without the resources to travel to the polling locations on election day were unable to vote.

Mayor Lyman said the city has asked for a local polling location for the past two elections. Lyman said he was told that Monticello is only 22 miles away, and it is very expensive to have interpreters at polling locations. The proposal was to draw up a letter addressing the County’s concerns and add Blanding’s concerns also.

Ideas regarding the voting drop box were discussed, including educating residents where the mail drop box is, advertising how long it will be there, and requesting the county extend the time for the drop box before voting ends. All members of the council were in favor.

City Manager David Johnson said he has found some holes in city codes that need to be addressed, including spending limits.

Johnsons said the budget is based on good judgement, but added, “It left holes for someone who doesn’t have good judgement to make poor decisions that would lead to city consequence.”

The city code has been amended with clear rules on spending limits to protect the city.

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