The Senate may stage a rare Sunday vote next week to try to overcome parliamentary maneuvering that is blocking a package of more than 150 public lands bills including some that would create more Utah wilderness and help a Utah Boy Scout camp, a ranch for troubled youths and Park City open space.
Legislation that combines more than 150 public lands bills from the last Congress was reintroduced Wednesday by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. The same package died late in the last Congress because of a filibuster by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who contends that it is full of wasteful earmarks.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who enjoys a bigger Democratic majority in the new Congress, is trying to move to a vote to cut off Coburn's filibuster. He complained Coburn is using "every procedural hurdle" to block it so he scheduled a rare Sunday vote to try to kill it.
Reid has often threatened Sunday votes as a means to encourage senators to cut deals quickly and avoid making everyone cancel travel plans. He usually does not carry out such threats but said it is real this time.
Coburn, in turn, complained, "The decision by Senate leaders to kick off the new Congress with an earmark-laden omnibus lands bill makes a mockery of voters' hopes for change. This package represents some of the worst aspects of congressional incompetence and parochialism."
But it contains several bills important to Utah's congressional delegation.
That includes a Washington County land bill that has been pushed for years by Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah. They finally reached a compromise version last year that a variety of environmental groups finally embraced, after fighting the bill for years.
Among its provisions are adding 264,394 acres of wilderness in Washington County. It would also designate 165.5 miles of the Virgin River that are in or adjacent to Zion National Park as a wild and scenic river (sort of a wet wilderness area).
It would also create two national conservation areas in Washington County, allow the sale of non-environmentally sensitive U.S. Bureau of Land Management parcels in the county, and provide for enhanced management of off-road vehicle use there.
Among other Utah bills in the package is one to allow the Boy Scouts to trade to Brian Head ski resort some federal land it had received as part of its Camp Thunder Ridge. The Scouts would obtain some usable flatter land from the ski resort, while Brian Head would obtain some steeper terrain for skiing. Congressional approval is needed because of restrictions on the land.
Another bill would allow Park City to obtain federally owned tracts in its boundaries known as the White Acre and Gamble Oak parcels, totaling 108.5 acres. A federal study in 1975 declared them as surplus to federal needs, and the city wants to obtain them to preserve them for open space and recreation.
Another bill would allow Bountiful to exchange 1,600 acres it now owns (but which are within national forest boundaries) 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.
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