County Commission approves continuation of voting lawsuit settlement, discusses airstrip

Voting accessibility, benefits for victims of radiation, and a housing development surrounding a Spanish Valley airstrip were all topics of conversation at the February 16 meeting of the San Juan County Commission. The commission moved through the meeting in unison for most items.

Commissioners voted to approve the continuation of a lawsuit settlement agreement between the Navajo Nation and San Juan County regarding voting in San Juan County.

The settlement was originally implemented in February 2018 and was set to expire in March of this year. At the February 16 meeting, the commission voted to extend the agreement through 2024.

The settlement stipulates that during elections the county will provide early voting locations and Election Day polling places in and near the Navajo Nation portion of San Juan County. Additionally, all locations are required to have a Navajo language interpreter available to assist voters.

The 2020 election day polling locations included Montezuma Creek, Navajo Mountain, Monument Valley, and Monticello. Early voting was also held at the four previously mentioned locations, as well as in Bluff and at Chapter houses in Aneth, Red Mesa, and Mexican Water.

During public comment, the commissioners heard from approximately 20 people who spoke in favor of extending the agreement, including local chapter officials, organizers with the Rural Utah Project, Navajo Nation Council members, and Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

President Nez praised the results of the agreement and thanked the commission for their support of the agreement. San Juan County saw a 22 percent increase in voter turnout from 2016 to 2020, with increased turnout in precincts located on the Navajo Nation.

“Thank you for respecting the Navajo People,” said Nez. “We appreciate the continuation of our language being utilized to explain San Juan County election information.

“The Navajo Language has helped win battles and helped win war. We want our Navajo young people to understand that it is very important to continue our Navajo language, especially in terms of elections.”

Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy praised the county for the implementation of additional voter resources in the county. “I did some research, and I like to commend [Clerk] John David [Nielson],” said Maryboy. “You have done a great, great job. There is nothing negative that I could say.”

Commissioners Bruce Adams and Maryboy voted to approve the voting settlement agreement. Commissioner Willie Grayeyes abstained from the vote.

At the meeting, the commission also discussed the Sky Ranch development located in Spanish Valley. The developers of the project own an airstrip in Spanish Valley that has previously been accessible to the public.

The private landowners now plan to build a subdivision around the airstrip, with homeowners and their guests granted exclusive access to the airstrip.

The airport has been in operation since 1985 and follows all Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards. County staff said the proposed development follows all current county codes and the subdivision was sent to the county commission with a favorable recommendation from the county planning and zoning committee.

However, during public comment, Spanish Valley residents on both sides of the San Juan and Grand county lines spoke against the approval of the subdivision.

Members of the public expressed concern about increased traffic at the airstrip and the resulting impact on neighbors, including safety concerns.

Spanish Valley resident Karl Spielman, whose home is located at the end of the Sky Ranch runway, said, “There are no safety overruns or barricades to keep aircraft whose pilots overshoot their landings or takeoffs from entering my property.”

Mike Bynum, the developer of the subdivision, said their request is within legal requirements, as well as county code.

“Certainly the [properties covenants, conditions, and restrictions] and things that we are developing will impact not only the neighborhood but residents around, including myself,” said Bynum. “So, we do have a concern that this be done in a considerate and responsible way in the future.”

Assistant County Attorney Alex Gobles advised the commission that tabling or denying the request without cause related to county code could open the county up to a lawsuit from the developer.

After considering tabling the item, Commissioner Maryboy motioned to approve the project, with conditions that the Planning and Zoning Committee and the developer hear additional public input from the impacted areas. The commission voted 3-0 to approve the motion.

Other items related to Spanish Valley included an amendment to the zoning map to allow for glamping (glamorous camping) in the overlay zone.

The owners of property located along Highway 191 propose installing seven domes. The land is zoned commercial and is located across the street from St. Danes Cabins. The commission voted unanimously to allow for overnight accommodations in the overlay zone.

The commission also discussed appointments to the Spanish Valley Special Service District. As part of the new year, San Juan County Commissioners approved the appointment of residents to various volunteer boards in the county.

Openings on county boards are reviewed by standing members of the board who recommend applicants to fill open seats to the county commission.

The Spanish Valley Special Service District (SSD) has three seats open, with the terms of Frank Darcey, Mike Bynum, and Lloyd Wilson expiring at the end of 2020. All three men applied to be re-appointed and were recommended for approval by the two board members whose terms expire in 2022.

In public comment at two different meetings, several members of the Spanish Valley community expressed interest in having two other residents of Spanish Valley be appointed to the board.

Some members of the public expressed support for David Foccardi, who has worked as a well-site geologist, and Monette Clark, who is an active member of the community and recently ran for the county commission. Public comments expressed a desire to have fresh perspectives on the board.

Also speaking at the February 19 meeting regarding the Spanish Valley SSD was Frank Darcey, one of the standing members of the board applying to return to the board.

Darcey cited cohesion and special expertise on the board as reasons to keep the board as constituted. Darcey mentioned his own background as a National Parks Service facility manager and Wilson’s maintenance and troubleshooting knowledge.

Commissioners Maryboy and Grayeyes voted to deny the recommendation from the sitting members of the Spanish Valley SSD and indicated they would approve the appointment of Foccardi and Clark, along with whoever else the district would recommend for the third open seat.

At the meeting, the commission also unanimously approved subdividing land in the Legacy Fields subdivision in La Sal. A number of area residents have expressed concern about the availably of water in the area.

Commissioner Adams clarified with county staff that the county doesn’t have a process to deny the subdivision because of water.

“Water is regulated by the state, not the county,” said Adams, “so people need to be aware when that well is applied for, that is the time to make a comment to the state agency, not the county.”

The commission also unanimously approved sending letters of support to extend and expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).

The letters express support of efforts by Utah State legislators and the Navajo Nation Council to continue the RECA benefits for San Juan County residents.

The commission also unanimously approved a letter of support for the creation of the Bluff River Trail and tabled sending a letter containing county comments regarding the Draft Forest Plan for the Manti-La Sal National Forest.

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