Grand Staircase Debate Focuses on Impact: Economic Powerhouse or Small Town Death Knell

Representative Mike Noel (Republican – Kanab) feels that the Clinton administration abused the Antiquities Act when creating the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. To help remedy the situation, Noel is proposing HCR 12 – Concurrent Resolution Urging Federal Legislation to Reduce or Modify the Boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Following a hearing Thursday, the Senate Business and Labor Committee advanced the resolution on a 5-1 vote.

HCR 12 expresses opposition to the way in which the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) was designated and urges Utah’s congressional delegation support to legislation that either modifies or reduces the GSENM’s boundaries. The resolution says that boundary adjustments are essential to protect the “prosperity, health, safety, and welfare” of residents from Garfield and Kane counties. Furthermore, HCR 12 lists potential benefits from a change in boundaries: improved access to public lands, commerce, development and protection of natural resources, traditional recreational resource values, traditional cultural and historical values, agricultural livestock and forest products industries, and other activities vital to the custom, culture, and well-being of the area.

Noel charged that the monument designation has stifled the local economy in Garfield and Kane counties. The primary issue, according to Noel, is how to manage the lands while simultaneously dealing with the many federal regulations that exist when monuments are involved. “[The monument’s existence] precludes simple things like recreational and commercial opportunities,” said Noel. “Kane County is ‘Little Hollywood.’ We haven’t been able to film a full-length picture in that area since they made this a monument because it’s a commercial activity.”

When asked by Senator Curt Bramble (Republican – Provo) whether he supports the creation of monuments at all, Noel responded that he is generally opposed unless there is an “imminent threat” to the land.

Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock blamed declining enrollment at Escalante High School on the monument designation. Enrollment has gone from 140 in 1996 to 51 in 2016. Noel Poe, executive director of Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, credits the monument with boosting the economy via increased tourism. “I urge the committee to vote no,” said Poe.

Taking 1.9 million acres out of development is “a pretty sad day” for the country, Representative Carl Albrecht (Republican – Richfield) told the committee. Albrecht, who previously worked for Garkane Energy, demurred that rights-of-way and easements weren’t honored by the federal government in the years after the monument designation. Costs increased “tremendously” as a result.

Senator Karen Mayne (Democrat – West Valley City) voiced her opposition to HCR 12, citing feedback from a number of her constituents. “I have a lot of people that like to go the land. I survey my constituents often. It’s always the same: ‘Don’t take those public lands away.’ Because as you chip away to them, it takes their advantage from them. Because we have to go somewhere,” said Mayne.

The resolution now heads to the Senate floor.

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