In the rush to pass legislation as Congress prepares to adjourn later this month, the House passed seven bills Wednesday that affect Utah.
They range from prohibiting development along some stretches of the Colorado River to studying expansion of national parks and allowing a land trade that someday may result in a Nevada power plant similar to the recently killed Thousand Springs plant.Also, in other action, the proposed transfer of Fort Douglas to the University of Utah may have jumped its last major hurdle.
COLORADO WILD RIVER BILL: The House by voice vote passed a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, to declare Westwater and Cataract canyons as part of the nation's "Wild and Scenic River" system. It now goes back to the Senate for approval of some House amendments.
It essentially protects beaches along those stretches as wilderness areas and prohibits developments and roads. Cataract Canyon essentially already had such protection because it is within Canyonlands National Park.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, told the House the Colorado is "the lifeblood of southern Utah's tourist economy," and better protecting the river will continue to attract river runners.
SALT LAKE CITY WATERSHED BILL: The House by voice vote also approved another Garn bill for a land swap between the city and the U.S. Forest Service to allow better management of watershed in the Wasatch canyons. It must go back to the Senate for approval of some House amendments.
Under the bill, the Forest Service would take over most city lands in Red Butte and Emigration canyons, In return, the city receives all land in City Creek Canyon and consolidates its holdings in Parleys Canyon around Mountain Dell and Little Dell lakes.
The bill eliminates a checkerboard pattern of ownership - erasing 65 miles of property lines and 110 boundary corners - that made maintenance difficult. Owens told the House, "It will also save the federal government an estimated $300,000 over the next five years."
CALIFORNIA/NEVADA LAND EXCHANGE BILL: Its passage by voice vote could allow a power plant similar to the Thousand Springs plant, which was killed earlier this year when critics said it would provide power to California, jobs to Nevada but only pollution to Utah and Idaho.
Owens amended the bill in committee to require that the planned plant near the Utah/Nevada border allowed by the new land exchange cannot be built if it would significantly harm air quality in Utah.
Owens said he could not kill the bill because it included trades to establish a utility corridor needed by Utah power plants to sell electricity to California. The bill now goes to the Senate.
HISTORIC SITES AND PARK BOUNDARIES BILL: The much watered-down bill, passed by voice vote, now calls for a study to establish uniform guidelines for modification of national park boundaries.
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, amended the original bill he complained was an attempt to vastly expand boundaries at the expense of ranchers, miners and others by mandating protection for scenic vistas and ecosystems now outside park boundaries.
The original bill also called for the park service to seriously study proposals to increase park acreage in Utah eightfold - expanding Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Cedar Breaks, Natural Bridges, Zion and Timpanogos Cave.
Before amendments, proposals in the bill also may have created three parks - Dirty Devil River Canyon, Grand Gulch Plateau and San Rafael Swell - and a new Great Salt Lake National Monument.
IN-LIEU FOREST SERVICE LANDS BILL: The House by voice vote passed a bill similar to one sponsored by Garn in the Senate to correct what some say was a land steal of 27,000 acres in 11 Western states by the Forest Service.
That happened when Congress passed a bill in 1897 to allow people to trade their private property within forests for federal lands in other spots. But the government required that it receive title first, and in many instance it never gave any land in return.
Elaine Neilson of Richfield, for example, bought 120 acres near Fish Lake at a tax sale in 1962. In 1975, after a cabin was built and part of the land sold, the Forest Service said it owned the land. It had technically taken title in 1904 but had not given any land in exchange for it. Neilson, an 81-year-old widow, has lost her life savings in the matter.
The bill would force the government to pay for such land or give clear title. The matter now goes to the Senate.
J. WILL ROBINSON FEDERAL BUILDING BILL: The bill by Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, also passed by voice vote to rename the federal building in Provo for former Democratic representative, who served in the House longer than any other Utahn.
He served from 1947 to 1961 and wrote such legislation as the bill that created the National Highway System - which Nielson told the House "opened the West to the rest of the country and was the last critical step in realizing a true national identity." The bill now goes to the Senate.
FISHLAKE FOREST LAND EXCHANGE BILL: The bill, also sponsored by Nielson, passed by voice vote to transfer 10,000 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management area near Richfield to the Forest Service to allow easier management.
The land would become part of Fishlake National Forest. The bill now goes to the Senate.
FORT DOUGLAS DEVELOPMENTS: Aides to Owens said House members negotiating differences with the Senate on their versions of the Defense Authorization Act have accepted giving the soon-to-be-closed portions of Fort Douglas to the University of Utah.
Owens' staff said that will allow the university to take over 55 of the 119 acres of Fort Douglas. The rest will be used for Army reserve activities.
In lieu of payment for the land, the university would relinquish its legal right to withdraw about 4,200 additional acres of federal land. Earlier laws granted the university the right to select thousands of acres for the use of higher education.