"It is a real slap in the face," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. "I look at this as the same thing they did on the Grand Staircase, seven or eight months out before an election."
Although the land under this proposal is in Arizona, Noel said the economic impacts are far greater to Utah residents who make a living grazing their cattle in that country during the winter months or who operate uranium mining companies that would be permanently banned under such a designation.
"It's a nasty deal," he said, adding that any monument declaration could derail the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project, which would traverse a section of northern Arizona before delivering 70,000 acre-feet of water to St. George.
Noel and others say it is a move by the monument backers to gauge President Obama's support of the environmental movement.
"It's a move by them to say if you want to get our base out behind you, you have to do this, this and that," Noel said. "Utah is the sacrificial lamb — Utah and Arizona."
Rep. Rob Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said any monument designation for that area would be a "travesty" that upends a negotiated wilderness agreement that stems back decades. Ally Isom, a spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert, said the governor has met repeatedly with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and has expressed Utah is in no mood for "surprises."
While Washington County Commissioner Dennis Drake said locals know the watershed protection proposal is just that —a proposal — they are still mustering forces to ward off any chance it gains steam.
"We are going to prepare what we can to offset their proposal," he said, adding that it compares in some ways to the Grand Staircase-Escalante surprise of 1996.
"I wish I could say I don't believe it will happen and I'd like to believe they will not do it a second time," he said. "But who knows? It is one of those guessing situations, especially when politics comes into it."
Contributing: The Associated Press
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