County commission discusses WIC, oil and gas
by David Boyle
Members of the San Juan County Commission approved a state increase to the Utah Women Infants and Children (WIC) program, voiced support of oil and gas lease sales and thanked the county road department at their latest meeting.
At their September 19 meeting members of the San Juan County Commission approved an amendment with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services to increase funding to the county public health department to administer WIC.
WIC is a federally funded program with funds allocated by the state to local health departments. WIC provides low-income recent mothers, expectant mothers, and children under age five to purchase certain nutrient-rich foods to encourage healthy growth.
County Public Health Director Grant Sunada explained that the past few years have been challenging as WIC funding is tied to enrollment for the previous two years.
With enrollment down during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the county has been working to address concerns and even allocated $10,000 from local budgets to be dedicated to WIC.
The county will also see an increase in funding following a change in the State of Utah formula to determine where WIC funds go.
Sunada explained the amendment will increase funding for the rate of children under poverty in the county. As a result, the county program will see an increase in total funding from $122,895 to $144,494.
The commission unanimously approved the contract change. Commissioner Sylvia Stubbs added her vocal support of the WIC program.
“This is one program that I always supported, it’s a good federal program. It’s a program that you get a return. Pell grants and WIC get return.”
In other WIC news, Sunada shared that stores in Aneth got their WIC redemption process working earlier in September and that the state is in the early process of having conversations to bring WIC redemption across state lines to Cortez, CO.
While the WIC program is mainly administered at the county public health offices in Blanding, the county is also increasing outreach with walk-in appointments available on the second Wednesday of the month in Monticello.
Sunada noted that the county is working and may bring WIC appointments to Monument Valley and La Sal.
County Administrator Mack McDonald shared his support of the program.
“We’re one of the counties that has the most food insecurities, which means a child is waking up and they don’t know where their next meal is. A lot of times we rely on the school system to provide that but there’s still this huge amount of food insecurity (before school).”
McDonald emphasized the importance of people participating in the program.
“A lot of times, people they think, ‘Well this money is set aside and if I take it I’m taking from somebody else and I don’t want to do that.’
“Well in essence it’s the opposite of that. The federal government gives these funds, set them in a bucket and we’re just not taking out.”
Those qualified for the program include families of three who make less than $43,000 a year, families of four who make less than $51,000, and families of five who make less than $60,000 a year.
The entire income guidelines and additional information on the program is available online at SanJuanPublicHealth.org/WIC.
At the meeting, members of the San Juan County Commission also sent letters of support for March and December 2018 gas lease sales by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
County Public Lands Coordinator Nick Sandberg explained that in March and December of 2018, the Bureau of Land Management issued oil and gas leases for properties in San Juan County.
The decision was appealed for 49,900 acres on 29 parcels located southeast of Blanding and a small section northeast of Monticello.
As part of a settlement agreement, the BLM agreed to conduct a new review and analysis of the sales. Sandbar shared the new analysis “concluded that reasonably foreseeable development can occur on all proposed lease parcels with no adverse effect to historic properties within the leases or within a 0.5 mile area of potential effect.”
A 30-day comment period on the analysis is open through September 29.
Sandberg presented draft letters for the commission’s approval, concurring with the findings and supporting the leases “with appropriate stipulations to avoid or mitigate potential environmental impacts.”
Sandberg reported the result could be 11 wells drilled on the 29 parcels. Members of the commission unanimously approved support of the analysis, as well as supportive comments of the lease approvals.
At the meeting, members of the commission also approved the notice of award for a contract with Tri-Hurst Construction to install RV stalls at the county fairgrounds.
McDonald explained the county used a grant to help design the project and would use $244,863 of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to fund the infrastructure project of RV stalls and lighting for the parking lot.
McDonald noted the infrastructure is needed in case of emergency for a place for people to take care of their animals and stay nearby.
The majority of the stall usage will likely occur during events at the county fair.
“This isn’t something that we want to be in competition with our public that have RV stalls. It’s not to compete with them, it’s for those times that individuals are using the fairground facilities,” said McDonald.
The original bid came in at $353,000. In order to make the project more cost-friendly, the county will use county road equipment to do roadwork and trenching, as well as decreasing the number of stalls under the original plan of 22 stalls.
McDonald noted that improvements at the county fairgrounds would also help future applications for federal funds to make additional improvements and upgrades at the fairgrounds.
At the meeting members of the commission and county administrative staff shared recognition of the work of the county road department.
McDonald shared county appreciation for the department efforts, especially during the recent winter, when members of the road department spent vast hours clearing county roads.
Commissioner Bruce Adams shared that each morning he checks the weather and thinks about the challenges facing the county employees, especially the road department.
“You people on the front line, doing the work every day, make us look good and we appreciate it. We wish we could do more for you.”
Commissioner Jamie Harvey shared that their work is valuable, “You’re out there working late at night, early in the morning before sunrise, you’re brave souls. Ahéhee’, muchas gracias, and thank you very much for all you do.”
County Road Superintendent TJ Adair also shared his thanks with members of his department. Adair noted between flooding and snow removal, the county faced a huge workload this year.
Adair said even among those emergencies he didn’t have workers call in sick but would instead rearrange their schedules and sacrifice family time.
“These guys, they’re more dedicated than most of the county citizens know. It’s a joy and a privilege to work with these guys.”
Members of the road department shook hands with the county commission before enjoying a catered lunch as a thank you from county leadership.