Hikers and cyclists, along with city and county officials, want Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to veto a bill that would limit local governments' ability to acquire land for mountain and recreational trails in Utah.
Senate Bill 117 amends the state's eminent-domain law to require city or county councils to approve a government's taking of private property for public use. The measure was amended to include a provision that would prohibit the use of eminent domain for trails or paths meant for walking, hiking, bicycling, horseback riding or other recreational uses. The amendment does not affect sidewalks or roadside bike paths.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, sponsored the initial bill in reaction to Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson's efforts to take a piece of disputed land on the city's border with North Salt Lake and preserve it as open space. In the last days of the 2006 legislative session, Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, added the amendment regarding trails.
But the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the Utah Association of Counties and local trail users worry the new provision adds an unnecessary hurdle for city or county governments that want to build trails for their residents. The Wasatch Front Regional Council, a group aimed at regional growth and transportation planning, also is concerned the measure could affect land-use planning.
"It is not likely that eminent domain would often be used for trails," wrote Sarah Bennett Alley of Friends of Emigration Canyon Trails & Open Space in an e-mail to trails advocates. "But this bill drastically alters any future negotiation for obtaining lands or easements for trails. The tool should remain in our toolbox for trails, just like other public projects." She urged her group members and others to ask the governor to veto the bill.
Huntsman's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, said Friday that the governor has not made a decision on whether to veto SB117. He has until Tuesday to act on the measure.
Tilton believes the principle of eminent domain was established to allow governments a last resort to provide essential services power, water, sewer and transportation when no other method exists.
"Property rights are paramount," he said Friday. "That's one of the main reasons the country was founded in the first place. For any governmental entity to take that property away so someone else can recreate on it is a ridiculous notion."
Tilton had sponsored another bill in the House of Representatives that would have made the same restrictions as the amendment to SB117 does, but three times it was killed in committee. The league's legislative analyst Lincoln Shurtz said his group objects to last-minute changes to SB117.
"The one thing that I think was most frustrating about the legislation was we had actually killed it in committee three times, and then it got amended into that Senate bill, which was pretty innocuous," Shurtz said. "There was really no opportunity to inform the Legislature about the implications of that bill."
Tilton said his methods were not meant to be sneaky and that opponents are overreacting."I think that's kind of a sore loser's way of saying, 'You're not playing fair,' " he said. "Any representative can try to make an amendment to any bill. For anyone to say, 'Hey, that's unfair,' that's just ludicrous."