Congress took steps Wednesday toward giving federal land to the Utah National Guard for its Camp Williams ranges, to Bountiful to improve a shooting range and to the town of Mantua, Box Elder County for public projects that could include a town hall or fire station.

The Bush administration endorsed the Bountiful and Camp Williams land deals in a Senate hearing. Meanwhile, a House committee passed a bill calling for the Mantua deal, and sent it to the full House.

The three deals are proposed in three separate bills by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

Bishop is proposing to transfer a checkerboard of 431 acres of federal land already within Camp Williams training ranges to the state of Utah and the Utah National Guard. He said it would make management of the land more efficient, and make any future upgrades by the National Guard easier and less costly.

Henry Bison, deputy director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the Bush administration supports that transfer —if some language is added to make clear that its ownership would revert to the federal government if use of the land changes.

Bishop is also pushing a land exchange to give the Forest Service 1,600 acres that Bountiful now owns (but are within the Wasatch-Cache National Forest) in exchange for federal acreage adjacent to the city —including a 220-acre parcel that is home of the Bountiful Lions Club gun range and the Davis aqueduct. City ownership would allow upgrades at the shooting range.

Joel Holtrop, deputy chief of the National Forest System for U.S. Forest Service, said the Bush administration supports the concept of the Bountiful deal, but wants some changes to require Bountiful to provide cash equalization payments in the swap, and to assume liability for hazardous wastes that may have come from activities at the shooting range.

The House has already passed the Bountiful and Camp Williams land deals, and the Senate is now considering them.

Finally, the House Natural Resources Committee endorsed a bill to give the small town of Mantua three parcels of Forest Service land totaling 31 acres for public purposes. Bishop said the town is considering using it for such things as a cemetery, a new town hall, fire station, park and a school.

Bishop said, "This land was basically given to the feds in 1941, and now all we're saying is local government needs the land for justifiable governmental purposes."

He added, "These lands have sat empty and unused for decades and no one can see a legitimate reason why they should be in federal hands, so we should help Mantua out by letting the city make good use of these areas."