SALT LAKE CITY — While one southern Utah county backed off plans to take over a shuttered federal recreation area, Gov. Gary Herbert said he's willing to put up state money to reopen and manage national parks.
Following a strongly worded letter to President Barack Obama, Herbert said he called Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Wednesday.
"I just suggested to her, 'Hey, we know there's dysfunctionality in Washington, D.C. Let us run the parks,'" he said.
Herbert said he told Jewell that Utah would lend the federal government money and use state and local resources to get the parks running again.
The governor said Jewell wants to know whether it could be done legally.
"She recognizes the challenge in Utah," he said. "She's a businesswoman herself. She certainly understands the outdoors and understands our concern for the economic degradation that's occurring because of the closing of the parks."
Herbert suggested the state could dip into its $288 million Rainy Day Fund or use dollars from travel and tourism budgets to cover management costs. He said the state is giving Jewell a list of "common sensible" areas to reopen.
"We'll lend them money with the idea they'll pay us back once they get their act together back in Washington, D.C.," he said.
Local public safety officers and volunteers could also help staff the parks, the governor said.
"If we need to have somebody in charge there that's a federal government employee, we'll pay their salary," he said. "We'll make sure that they get a paycheck."
Herbert said Arizona loaned the federal government money to keep the Grand Canyon open during the 1996 shutdown and was later paid back.
Meantime, San Juan County officials decided against removing barricades Wednesday on the Hall's Crossing boat ramp at Lake Powell.
Commissioner Phil Lyman said the county didn't want to create an "open lake" and wants to coordinate with four other counties that border it before making any moves.
Kane County Commissioner Jim Matson was among those talking about what the counties should do next.
"We're right now trying to dither about and figure out what we can do without getting balled up in a great big legal battle," he said. "I think we're going to go cautiously and make sure we feel our way along carefully so that we don't unnecessarily damage the brand of Utah counties."
Matson said the counties intend to work with the governor's office as it negotiates with the Interior.
Lyman said he doesn't think the counties have much choice but to open the ramp.
"There's a certain amount of fear that comes with taking a position that says, 'We're going to come and remove those barriers.' But I don't see that we have any other option as a local government," he said on KSL NewsRadio's "The Doug Wright Show."
Lyman said if the county and the state have jurisdiction in those areas, they need to be willing to take measures to maintain their liberty.
"If we're not willing to do that, I just think we're giving the nod to the federal government that they have the power and we don’t," he said.
Herbert said he didn't support San Juan County taking the barriers down on its own.
"We're law-abiding people in Utah. I expect we'll abide by the law as constituted," he said.
Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, said he doesn't believe there are any laws to break.
"This is not the law. There is no law mandating the shutdown. This is an action," he said.
In a poll of 500 Utahns the institute conducted Monday, 48 percent of respondents said they support civil disobedience to enter closed national parks, while 41 percent said they oppose it.
Boyack said he applauds efforts like the one in San Juan County to reopen federal recreation areas to the public.
University of Utah law professor and former federal judge Paul Cassell said counties can't take over federal property.
"Action like that would be well-intentioned but illegal," he said. "While this may be frustrating to everyone that the lake is just a few yards away and could be opened seemingly with no difficulty, that's a decision for the federal government and not for state or local governments."
Carl Graham, director of the Sutherland Institute's Center for Self-Government in the West, said federal and state government have moved from a partnership to an adversarial relationship. It has gone into a "ruled and ruler" mode, he said.
Graham said it wouldn't be a big deal for the state and counties to provide basic services on what are open lands.
"You don’t need adult supervision to enjoy these attractions," he said.
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