Commission considers land transfer
by Rhett Sifford
A proposed Bluff land exchange between San Juan County and the Hole in the Rock Foundation produced some passionate discussion at the September 25 meeting of the San Juan County Commission.
Lynn Stevens, former county commissioner and Government Relations Director for the Hole in the Rock Foundation (HIRF), reported that the HIRF seeks to transfer 3.88 acres to the county in exchange for 2.18 acres.
The land transfer was initially proposed in 2015 but has been mired in discussion since. Some Bluff residents have expressed opposition to the exchange because the Bluff Solid Waste Transfer Station sits on the county property in question.
In 2007, the HIRF purchased an eight-acre property several miles west of Bluff and directly north of the transfer station. The transfer station services Bluff and nearby communities on the Navajo Nation.
The foundation built a campground on the lot, Camp Sticky-ta-tudy. Stevens said that the camp is intended to host Mormon and non-Mormon youth groups.
However, the campground proximity to the county-managed transfer station, which holds refuse in open containers before it’s trucked to the White Mesa Landfill 13 miles away, has been an issue for the foundation since the campground was constructed.
Stevens said the land the HIRF would give to the county would be easy to sell and that the county could then use the sale money to bolster operations at the White Mesa Landfill. He added that acquiring the county property would allow the HIRF to complete extensive expansion plans at Camp Sticky-ta-tudy.
Stevens said that if the foundation acquires the county parcel, they would allow the transfer station to temporarily continue operations as long as the HIRF remains free of any liability on the property.
Wes Shook, a member of the Bluff Service Area Board since 2015, said he opposes the transfer of the land. He reported that a 1993 agreement between the Navajo Area Indian Health Service (NAIHS) and San Juan County shows that the Navajo Nation paid $30,000 for half the construction cost of transfer stations in Bluff and Mexican Hat.
He said the agreement stipulates that the transfer stations would serve residents within 30 miles of the stations. Shook said that in past discussions involving the land transfer, the HIRF indicated that they would fund construction of a new transfer station at a different location if they acquire the current Bluff Transfer Station property.
Shook asked how the county would continue to uphold the NAIHS agreement if the HIRF has no plans to follow through with a new transfer station. He questioned whether the land transfer is in the best interest of the county and asked why Bluff residents should have to travel farther away to dump trash.
Bluff Town Council Member Jim Sayers said that the land transfer would not benefit the town of Bluff, area residents, or the county. He proposed that the value of the two properties is out of balance and that the exchange would be a land giveaway.
Sayers pointed out that the county property contains a working facility. He said that San Juan County residents outside of Bluff also use the transfer station and surmised that a new facility would probably cost more than $30,000 at today’s prices.
Other Bluff residents in attendance expressed sentiments similar to the statements by Shook and Sayers.
County commissioners said they appreciated the public comments and said that they want to take some time to consider both sides of the issue before making a final decision on the land exchange.
In other business, the commission approved a resolution to declare the continued existence of a drought emergency in San Juan County. It is expected that Utah Governor Gary Herbert will also declare a state of emergency in the county.
Commissioner Phil Lyman reported that he met with the Blanding Area Travel Council and talked with them about the new advertising campaign for San Juan County.
He said Economic Development and Visitor Services Director Natalie Randall put in hard work to obtain a $200,000 grant for the project. Lyman said the work has been overlooked due to controversy surrounding the new campaign tagline.
Lyman stressed that the funds will help the county offset tourism costs and said he hopes the community will recognize Randall’s effort.