SALT LAKE CITY — Despite pressure from anglers and others who advocate for access, Gov. Gary Herbert has signed a controversial bill that will establish new restrictions on where recreationists can access streams, rivers and other waterways located on private property.
The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, was hotly contested throughout the legislative session and at the center of a tug of war pitting recreationists against farmers, ranchers and others who have streams and other waterways that cross their property.
"I am signing HB141 because we need to begin the process of addressing the unfortunate gulf between outdoor recreationists and private property owners," Herbert said. "I recognize the potential conflict between private property rights and the right of public access to Utah's waterways."
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon blasted Herbert for signing the so-called stream access bill, saying he wished Herbert had demonstrated "basic leadership" and had vetoed the measure.
"There is nothing more basic than access to the outdoors and Utah's bountiful outdoor resources. Utahns have always cherished our fundamental right to the use of our water ways," Corroon said. "HB141 will severely limit that access, economically harm Utah retailers, hotels and lodges, and send visiting anglers and hunters to neighboring states."
Supporters viewed the measure as a restoration of private property rights they believed were gutted by a 2008 Utah Supreme Court decision that ultimately tossed the criminal trespass convictions lodged against rafters on the Weber River.
Because Utah case law was largely silent on the issue of accessing public waterways that cross private property, Supreme Court justices held that public waterways should largely enjoy unrestricted access, but they did note that it was a matter that could be addressed through lawmakers.
At least two representatives did just that, running competing bills that attempted to establish new guidelines.
McIff's successful measure was viewed as the most restrictive and was opposed by anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts. It sets up access if there has been a continual, historic public use of the waterway for 10 years, and it requires recreationists to get permission from property owners if they leave the water and touch the land.
Multiple farmers and ranchers and other property owners urged passage of the bill, with many testifying that they were held hostage by reckless rafters and anglers who left trash behind and overstayed their welcome.
One of the biggest supporters of the measures was the Utah Farm Bureau, whose chief executive officer, Randy Parker, praised Herbert and lawmakers.
"We felt strongly that we needed to step forward and protect property rights," Parker said Wednesday. "We'd like to compliment the Legislature and the governor on their leadership and their commitment to the constitutional protection of private property rights. They put that principle at the top of the list, and for that, we compliment them."
McIff's measure does not take effect until summer of 2011. In the meantime, another measure passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor will establish a task force to explore the conflict between property owners and recreationists.
Herbert said he hoped to find a "common sense" solution. He has tapped his environmental advisor, Ted Wilson, to work with the legislative task force to resolve unaddressed issues.
"My hope is that this bill puts both sides of the equation on equal footing and allows the conversation to continue in a productive fashion," Herbert said.
One of the property owners who testified in favor of the bill, Steve Ault, is the governor's brother-in-law and owns property along the Provo River. Ault has said in other media interviews that he doesn't believe the relationship tilted the issue in his favor. If anything, he said, it was a liability.
Also on Wednesday, Herbert signed HB146, which was sponsored by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. That measure seeks to restrain the law enforcement activities of federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service that are tasked with managing public lands.
Supported by several rural sheriffs, the bill arose from what Noel and others say is overbroad authority exercised by those agencies that was not contemplated when they were established by Congress. Instead, Noel wants those agencies to contract with local law enforcement and be subject to review and certain controls.
In putting his stamp of approval to the bill, Herbert said, "I understand the sentiment that motivated the passage of this piece of legislation, and I agree with the need to strike an appropriate balance between the powers of the federal government and the state with regard to law enforcement issues."
He added he recognizes the need for building a stronger, collaborative relationship with federal law enforcement and said he plans to host a law enforcement conference in May in which agencies from across Utah will be invited to participate.
Contributing: Arthur Raymond