SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Mike Noel, known for railing against the federal government when it comes to too much control over federal lands, says it is not hypocritical to require state lawmakers to sign off on any local land bills dealing with potential wilderness designations.
"We do in fact have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the resources of the state," Noel told a committee of lawmakers Thursday.
His HB176 requires counties to work with the state's public lands policy office and get a legislative nod of approval before any local land use bills are floated at the congressional level.
"A resolution would then come before this committee for approval," he told members of the House Natural Resources Committee.
Such oversight, he stressed, is necessary to take a wider view of potential implications of locally driven land use legislation, such as impacts to adjacent counties that might not be considered.
If the full body of the Utah Legislature gives a nod of approval, that also signals unified support for such land use designations, he added.
"This actually was a discussion I had with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)," Noel said. "He could see the wisdom in having legislative oversight."
Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, worried aloud that making counties jump through such a legislative hurdle would add more confusion, and more negotiators, to the mix.
"This has the potential to add 104 new negotiators on these designations," he pointed out, adding it could mire the process in bureaucratic malaise.
Noel countered that legislative oversight could very well add new questions to the negotiations, but stressed the process should be open and well-vetted.
"It will be a dialogue," he conceded. "It will be a process to sure these bills are acceptable to all the users out there. In my mind it will never be perfect. There are certain things we will win on, certain things we will lose on."
Kane County Commissioner Dirk Clayson said rural counties for years have been begging the state to be more of an advocate of local needs and a more active partner at the planning table — and Noel's measure would accomplish that.
"You will hear some of the counties say they have been working on these plans for five, 10 years to negotiate these things and I ask why the state hasn't been one of the stakeholders," Clayson said. "It seems crazy they would not have been at your side the entire time."
The bill passed over the objections of Briscoe and Rep. Christine Watkins, D-Price, who argued that the legislation is overly restrictive and has the potential to shoot down any local progress made on land bills designating potential wilderness areas.
"I feel this bill will have a chilling, if not freezing effect on the counties," Watkins said. "You're tying the hands of many of our local officials."