When Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was formed, it included a producing oil field, apparently by accident.
That's not all. The boundaries included land where a Tropic school had hoped to expand its athletic fields. It included Henrieville's wells and water storage facilities. And it included a part of one property owner's long driveway to his ranch."Oil fields and series of wells are not something that people expect to see when they visit a national monument and are not conducive to its mission," said Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah.
So Cannon has quietly introduced a bill for minor boundary adjustments to remove such areas.
He says the bill is not meant to erase the monument totally, but some of its wording seems to encourage that, which concerns environmental groups.
"It's like throwing gasoline on the fading embers of resentment against creation of the monument," said Scott Groene, issues director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
Included in the bill's wording is: "It is the intent of Congress that the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument be abolished if any court finds that the president exceeded his authority" when he formed it.
Cannon said his staff had spent months collecting examples of small boundary problems with the monument, and he included several of them in the bill.
An example, he said, was a portion of the "Upper Valley Oil Field" near Henrieville, which he described as the largest oil field in Utah outside the Uintah Basin. He said it had been developed long before the monument was created.
"These are the types of things that happen when you create a monument in secret," he said. "It likely would not have happened had we had an open process, but the president contends the monument may never have been formed if the process were open, because of opposition," Cannon said.
Because of that, the "findings" portion of his bill would have Congress formally declare that the monument "was planned and its boundaries were drawn in secret, without the type of public input that is generally conducive to sound decision-making."
Groene said he worries such wording is inflammatory just when Utah and the federal government seem to be mending fences over the monument. Gov. Mike Leavitt and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt proposed an exchange for state school trust lands buried in the monument. The agreement would include dropping lawsuits challenging its formation.
Groene said he worries Cannon's bill could disrupt that.
But Cannon said the bill is actually meant to prod better cooperation between state and federal officials, including negotiations between Leavitt and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to make some of the boundary changes administratively without need for legislation.
For example, Cannon said he didn't publicize the bill, as he has done other bills he introduced, (the Deseret News learned about it from officials who had noticed it) because he didn't want it to interfere with those discussions.
Brad Barber, Leavitt's state planning coordinator, said such discussions are still in the earliest stages and officials are trying to determine what action is possible administratively and what may require legislation.
Some of the changes proposed in the bill include:
- Excluding an area that contains the wells and water storage facilities that supply Henrieville.
- Excluding an area that Cannon's staff says Cannonville had been negotiating to obtain from the BLM to develop as a park and picnic area.
- Excluding and giving to Tropic land where local school officials hoped to expand athletic fields.
- Excluding "all lands with 500 feet of the center line of U.S. Route 89 in Kane County." This provision, according to Cannon's staff, would possibly allow a water pipeline from Lake Powell to Kanab and other areas.
- Transferring some land now in the monument to Kodachrome Basin State Park.