San Juan County won’t participate in Bears Ears travel planning effort
San Juan County will not participate in travel planning efforts in Bears Ears National Monument. With a 2-1 vote at the April 21 Commission meeting, Commissioners rejected a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the county and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the effort.
Commissioners Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes opposed the plan, suggesting the planning effort should be delayed until lawsuits are settled.
U.S. President Barrack Obama created a 1.35 million-acre national monument in 2016. One year later the boundaries were reduced by 85 percent by President Donald Trump.
A series of lawsuits opposing the reduction are still in process and could stretch on for years.
In the interim, the planning process for the smaller monument continues.
County Planner Nick Sandberg explained that the proposal was the initial step to determine how roads are used within the national monument.
“This is the opportunity for San Juan County to participate in travel management planning for those roads that the county has on its current transportation system,” said Sandberg.
“Whether we agree or disagree with the size of the current monument, this is an item that is vital to the economy, lifestyle, and customs of the county. If we do not accept this invitation to participate, we may have very little say in how the roads in the monument are used.”
Commissioner Grayeyes said, “My concern is that we are being funneled into a point that we are having to support the whole scam version of the national [monument], which I don’t agree with.
“I oppose the planning, or we can be further funneled into that scheme, or I think we can be ending up supporting the miniature-sized national monument.”
Commissioner Bruce Adams supported the county signing the agreement, adding, “All we are doing by supporting the development of this plan is getting a seat at the table, along with all of the other cooperating agencies.
“If we don’t have a seat at the table, they are going to move on with the process without us, without any input from the county. I think it is irresponsible not to be at the table and represent all of the county.”
Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy said, “It is true that parts of this monument is still in litigation. While that is happening, we don’t want to set any precedent or any type of an agreement in stone without hearing to see what the outcome is going to be.”
In other business, after a significant amount of discussion, Commissioners approved by-laws for the San Juan County Economic Development Board.
The board will include five to eleven members and is designed to include representatives from across the county, including the local municipalities in Bluff, Blanding, and Monticello.
Commissioners Maryboy and Grayeyes expressed concern that Native Americans and the Spanish Valley area may not have representation on the board.
Maryboy said, “We may need to put a hold on a lot of these things until we have further discussions” with those communities.
County Administrator Mack McDonald urged the Commission to approve the bylaws, stating the bylaws need to be approved to create the board and to receive funding from the state.
A grant cycle for the program opens in May.
“I recommend that we adopt the bylaws because it is required by the grant,” said McDonald. “If we don’t adopt them, then we don’t get the grant funds.”
Later, McDonald added, “We are not trying to exclude anybody; we will definitely include as many people as we can.” He reminded the Commissioners that they will make the appointments to the board.
The bylaws were eventually passed with votes from Adams and Grayeyes.
Economic Development Director Natalie Randall told Commissioners, “We can start to take actions effective immediately as soon as we can finalize our board.”
Commissioners approved a $95,265 grant from the State of Utah to help pay for unexpected costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Public Health Director Kirk Benge said the department has spent about $45,000 to date on expenses related to COVID-19.
The funding is part of a $7 million allocation from the State Legislature.
It is designed to help with the funding for contact tracing and other public health initiatives.
Commissioners also approved a second contract through the state that helps fund home visits for public health efforts. Benge said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, these efforts are taking place through video visits and the use of other technologies.
The impact of the pandemic was discussed by the Commission.
During Commission reports, Adams said, “I think the State and the Nation are getting ready to reopen the country for business.
“I think that it still remains in the hands of our health office and the governor as to how fast these things are reopened. I know lots of small business are anxious to get back to business and be able to survive.”
Maryboy focused on the current challenges faced by county residents, stating, “My report is on the local impact. We are very impacted...and are not sure how long we have emergency funds. If they run out, we will have to have a hard look at our future.”
Maryboy described efforts to get food, firewood, and drinking water to families impacted by the pandemic and expressed concern that “when they find these people are infected, they have no recommendations or plans except to go home and isolate themselves.
“They live in large families, and they infect each other,” he said. “It seems like it is not slowing down.”
In other matters at the April 21 meeting, Commissioners approved a request for consulting party status with the BLM as it considers an oil and gas lease sale.
County Planner Nick Sandberg said the sale could include up to 25,000 acres of land in northern San Juan County, including areas near Kane Canyon, Flatiron Mesa, Hatch Point, and near La Sal Junction. The total amount of land in the state that could be considered for the sale is 154,000 acres.
Commissioners did not move on an agenda item to provide a letter of support for use of Utah Navajo Trust Funds to help with COVID-19 impacts. The concept had been approved by the chapters in Mexican Water, Dennehotso, and Oljato. With no motion, the item died.
In addition, Commissioners:
• signed an agreement with Empire Electric to provide electric service for the new county road department building in Monticello. The $26,962 project is paid through Community Impact Board funding.
• approved a $325 per month maintenance contract for the Otis Elevator in the San Juan County Administrative Building.
• approved a $37,219 vehicle renewal lease through Zions Bank for the county strike force vehicle.
• approved purchases from Peak JCB, including two backhoes for $81,659 and $7,431 for a rock breaker.
• approved purchase of a $184,000 Vibratory Soil Compactor from Wheeler Caterpillar
• agreed to pay $3.85 per gallon for emulsion oil and $2.61 per gallon for emulsified sealer/binder from Asphalt Systems. These were sole source contracts with the road department.
• approved $3,984 to purchase a trailer for the weed department.
• approved small purchase contracts with Airport IFE Services and Sunrise Engineering.