Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Garfield votes for a smaller Grand Staircase despite divided constituency

Supporters and detractors of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument faced off Monday inside and outside the Garfield County Courthouse, where county commissioners fielded public comments then passed a controversial resolution calling for downsizing the 1.9 million-acre monument. "We could cut that in half and still have plenty of room to protect everything there that needs to be protected," said Planning Commission Chairwoman Elaine Baldwin, a former Panguitch mayor. "We have been shut down when we tried to do something with economic development. We need to bring back sawmills, and we need to bring back industry to Garfield County." Monday's event highlighted a growing disconnect between entrepreneurs who have moved to Garfield County and elected leaders who claim the monument has undermined the county's customs and heritage, based largely on ranching and natural resource extraction. Over the past two decades since President Bill Clinton issued a surprise proclamation creating the monument, however, businesses have sprung up or expanded in Boulder, Tropic, Escalante and other towns along State Route 12 to serve visitors drawn to the region's rugged beauty and solitude...At least 100 people on each side of the debate gathered Monday morning in front of the county's historic courthouse. Only a small portion of them could be seated in the commission chambers. Partisans treated one another respectfully. The commission fielded comments of up to two minutes from 12 speakers on each side before unanimously voting to approve the resolution, based nearly verbatim on a successful resolution before the Utah Legislature, sponsored by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. "The monument doesn't have sufficient funding to protect its resources," Commissioner David Tebbs said. "That's an indication that it is too big." The Bureau of Land Management, which runs the monument, has closed historic roads and locked up lands from traditional activities that were promised, such as heritage tours, family reunions and wood gathering, Tebbs said...more

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