There are people who will think the federal government gave away the store.
And there are others who believe Utah got short shrift in a huge land agreement that officials say ends years of conflict.Several Utah lawmakers said Thursday they want to see the bottom line.
"I think people should be aware that there are some concerned folks out here, and this may not be a squeaky clean deal," said Rep. Bill Hickman, R-St. George.
Utah lost thousands of acres in a deal signed Friday by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt. And several state lawmakers, including House Speaker Mel Brown, say they have not seen figures about the values of the lands traded.
It's not clear, said Brown, R-Union, whether Utah wins or loses in the deal.
"I think it's accurate to say that before this thing is finally approved, we want to see these values and see how this thing was put together."
Leavitt said Thursday that the people closest to the trust lands have decided this is a good deal.
And they've taken their time.
"It's hard to imagine a slower approach than 25 years," he said.
The agreement was made with the involvement of the trust lands board and their technical staff. "Those who know the land best feel confident that we are getting the best value.
"I feel very good about the deal."
The board of directors for the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration met Thursday in Moab to discuss the deal, which in many public officials' minds resolves the contentious issue of of thousands of acres of state school trust lands now locked up inside national parks, national forests and Indian reservations.
"We're worried we may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater," said Rep. Bud Bowman, R-Cedar City.
"We've got so much federal land down here already. If we're talking about another quarter of a million acres down here, this may be the wrong way to go."
"We've been sacrificed in the deal," said Rep. Tom Hatch, R-Panguitch.
It may be a good swap for Utah, Hatch says, "But for the people in this area - we're really getting the shaft.
"We'd always hoped we could leverage those trust lands for the benefit of our local economies. What the governor has done is taken that opportunity away forever."
It was not clear by late Thursday morning whether the trust lands board had given preliminary approval to the agreement, but Hickman urged the trust lands board to go slow.
"There are so many resources that we're just going to abandon with this deal, it looks like to me," said Rep. Dennis Iverson, R-Washington.
"I don't think this agreement is a done deal . . . I'd just like to have this agreement go away. Go back to the lawsuit."
Brad Johnson, R-Richfield, said he has mixed feelings. There are positives and negatives in the deal. "One thing I'm concerned about it is we end up with less land. On the other hand, I'm very happy we're finally able to get some of those values that have been locked up for so many years."
Under terms of the agreement, which must still be passed by Congress, the state agreed to give up 376,739 acres of state school trust lands, including:
- 176,699 acres within the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
- 80,000 acres within Arches and Capitol Reef national parks, Glen Canyon and Flaming Gorge national recreation areas, and Dinosaur National Monument.
- 47,480 acres within the Goshute and Navajo Indian reservations.
- 70,000 acres within eight national forests and the Desert Range Experimental Station.
- 2,560 acres in the Alton coal fields in Kane County that had previously been designated unsuitable for mining.
The state also agreed to give up mineral rights on an additional 65,852 acres of state land. The Office of School and Institutional Trust Lands also agreed to drop its lawsuits over the Grand Staircase inholdings and lost coal developments there.
In return, the school trust fund will receive from the federal government a mixture of developable lands, mineral rights and cash, including:
- $50 million in cash.
- $13 million to be generated from the sale of as-yet-unleased coal in the Cottonwood Tract in Emery County.
- Mineral rights to more than 160 million tons of coal in Carbon and Emery counties.
- Rights to 185 billion cubic feet of coal bed methane in Carbon and Emery counties in what is known as the Ferron Field.
- 2,000 acres of limestone deposits in Millard County.
- 4,000 acres of oil and gas properties in Duchesne County.
- 2,600 acres of tar sands in Uintah County.
- The Blue Mountain Telecommunications Site in Uintah County.
- The 3,000 acres on which Beaver Mountain Ski Resort sits as well as adjacent lands that could be developed into condominiums.
- More than 47,000 acres of developable land in Washington, Kane and Garfield counties.