PANGUITCH, Garfield County — The debate over the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument heated up Tuesday when Garfield County commissioners brought up a resolution to ask Congress to cut the size of the national monument.
The controversial monument, established in 1996, has never been welcomed by the majority of the county's residents, who believe it hurt the economy by reducing mining, logging and grazing. But at Tuesday's meeting, officials heard another side of the issue.
“Really, the Garfield County Commission has been the biggest threat to my business," county resident Grant Johnson said. “We started in 1991 and they want more ATVS, they want roads, coal, more development.”
An item on the agenda called for a proposed resolution to ask Congress to cut the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, but the specifics aren’t clear.
“I don’t think it is fair because quite a few of us really depend on the monument, either for business or for recreation,” Escalante resident Melissa Webb said.
Boulder resident Dean Brooks agreed.
“We are concerned about that misinformation getting sent to Washington and to Congress without them seeing for themselves how well things are doing down here,” Brooks said.
These opponents dispute claims over the past two decades that the county's economy has suffered because of the monument.
"I think it would be good to look up to God in the sky and get new energy sources from wind and sun and not go down there where the devil dwells and be digging out those fossil fuels,” Escalante resident Marcie Hoffman said.
Commissioners say the resolution would represent the majority interest of citizens here in Garfield County.
"There is only a couple hundred thousand acres in a 2-million-acre monument that is a monument, that has any value whatsoever, the rest of it is just regular BLM range land,” said Garfield County Commission Chairman Leland Pollock.5 comments on this story
“All that will happen is this will revert back to the Kanab field office to put it in the right BLM hands to do what they need to maintain the land," Pollock said. "The monument part that the people visit will still be there.”
While the commissioners dispute the notion that any reduction in the monument would impact tourism, residents at Tuesday's meeting disagreed.
"We think that the best interest of our community and businesses and long-term economic development lie in keeping the monument as it currently stands,” said Kelton Manzanares from Escalante.
The commission postponed any action and set a public hearing for March 13, when residents can give their opinions.