Uintah County admits closed-door meeting on oil shale violated state law

Published: Thursday, Aug. 2 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

"It's kind of the example of, if you want to learn about a particular religion, do you go to the people who are just spouting anti stuff about that religion, or would it make sense to go and talk to someone who practices it?" Stearmer said in July.

But Hansen doesn't believe that's what officials were trying to do.

"I firmly believe litigation strategy has to be developed confidentially, but that was not their intention to begin with," she said. "The intention was to develop a unified front against the BLM for rolling back the amount of land available for oil shale leasing."

Hansen said that the BLM was still soliciting public comment on a draft programmatic environmental impact statement for commercial oil shale leasing when officials held their meeting. That meant there was no imminent possibility of legal action against the federal agency, she said.

"The BLM hasn't released its final decision, and only final decisions can be challenge," Hansen said.

As a result of the meeting, most of the counties involved passed nearly identical resolutions lambasting the BLM proposal to slash the amount of land available for oil shale leasing from about 2 million acres to 462,000 acres, and calling on the agency to abandon the plan.

In Carbon, Duchesne and Uintah counties, those resolutions were presented in open meetings and then voted upon by the commissioners. 

Duchesne County Commissioner Ron Winterton said he was unaware of Uintah County's decision to rescind its oil shale resolution until he was contacted Thursday by the Deseret News for comment.

"I don't think we hurried into (passing the resolution)" he said. "We did a lot of refining and asked if it was right for (the county)."

Still, Duchesne County will likely review the resolution in light of what Uintah County has done, Winterton said.

Uintah County commissioners plan to revisit their resolution when they meet Monday. They will also be releasing "all documents and recordings" from the March 27 meeting to Hansen and others who filed public records requests for the information, according to court records.

Hansen, who has terminal cancer, sees Uintah County's about-face on the open meetings issue as a victory. But she also expressed frustration with the commissioners' repeated assertions over the past several months that they had done nothing wrong. 

"They could have resolved this three months ago," she said.

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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