The Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009 - A Study in False Advertising
In late March 2014, the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009 (URLEA) will become law. In a previous article, I discussed the final agreement between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Utah State Institutional Land Trust (SITLA). Both my article and my written protest to the BLM pointed out significant errors in the official Appraisal of at least one exchange parcel. Unless sufficient changes are made to the Agreement, a Greater Canyonlands National Monument in Grand County will become a wish of the past.
Parcel 32, in direct contradiction to the expressed spirit of the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009 (URLEA) is destined to become part of SITLA land holdings in Grand County. According to BLM contact Joy Wehking, SITLA is on record that they plan to sell all of their new Grand County land holdings to private interests. Currently, Parcel 32 has two petrochemical pipelines, U.S. Highway 191, a county road and the Potash Branch of the Union Pacific Railroad running through it.
To me, it seems obvious that Parcel 32 is destined for chemical extraction, storage and transportation. According to URLEA documents, the appraisal firm of Cushman & Wakefield’s responsibility was to assess mineral rights on exchange parcels. The catch is that Cushman & Wakefield was to appraise mineral rights only on parcels previously identified by SITLA or the BLM as containing them. In my estimation, Cushman & Wakefield erroneously assessed the “highest and best use” of Parcel 32, calling it grazing land. If Parcel 32 is destined for petrochemical development, there is an obvious disconnection between SITLA, BLM and the Cushman & Wakefield Appraisal.
When proposed by U.S. Rep Jim Matheson (D-Utah) in 2009, the core concept of the URLEA was to convey environmentally sensitive and recreational land in Grand and San Juan Counties from SITLA to BLM control. In return, SITLA was to receive Uintah County land of equal value, but with a high potential for mineral extraction.
When the Appraisal was complete, Cushman & Wakefield appraised Corona Arch as if it were prime resort property and Parcel 32 as if it were barely fit for range cattle. Consequently, Utah/SITLA withdrew 20,000 acres, valued at $10 Million from the land exchange. From those obvious errors alone, BLM should void the URLEA agreement and reappraise all properties according to their probable use. Otherwise, Corona Arch will remain a natural wonder at the end of a footpath and Parcel 32 will become the hub of petrochemical development and transportation in Grand County. To see the negative impact of creating an "Industrial Desert", one needs only to look at the crippled Brightsource Energy project in California's Ivanpah Valley, near Primm, Nevada.
After reflecting on the problems with the appraisal of Parcel 32, I decided to look at two other parcels destined for a similar URLEA “reverse exchange”. Focusing on Parcel 33 in Grand County and Parcel 34 in San Juan County, I discovered immediate issues. Parcel 33 contains approximately 69 acres and Parcel 34 consists of 170 acres.
In order to learn more about the parcels in question, I turned to the (final and official) "Decision Record Signed" and the "Exchange Agreement", as published on the internet. According to Page 7 of 9, “Exhibit B - Utah Recreational Land Exchange – Federal Lands and Interests to be Conveyed”, Parcel 33 contains a “road”, reserved in perpetuity. In the same document, on Page 9 of 9, both parcels are located “Behind the Rocks”. Each parcel contains a “Federal Grazing Allotment” issued to one “Kenneth Bates”. In the "Signed" Decision Record, I was shocked to find that Parcel 33 and 34 were Appraised as having a highest and best use of "Residential". After seeing how SITLA and BLM had treated Parcel 32, I was dubious.
If not for some form of mineral development, why would this SITLA and BLM “reverse exchange” include open grazing land, appraised as "Residential"? Is it "over the top" to think that SITLA plans to sell these former undeveloped pastures as "estate lots", intended for retired BLM or SITLA board members? Or is some Old Energy company planning to test stealth drilling rigs (see images) that can "hover and extract" without ever touching the land? If not, those parcels should remain open land, not some rich person's hideaway mansion surrounded and protected from encroachment by BLM land. Any way you look at it, the conveyance of Parcels 33 and 34 into private hands reeks of undue influence, old-boy networking and backroom politics. Please, BLM and SITLA, help me restore my trust in our public institutions. Prove me wrong.
The sad fact is that we may not soon know what BLM and SITLA have planned for these remote pastures. As published on the internet, “Exhibit B - Utah Recreational Land Exchange – Federal Lands and Interests to be Conveyed” is missing two critical pages. Both Pages 6 of 9 and 8 of 9 are missing from the BLM website and therefore, from the general public record. Based on the sequence of information offered on the existing published pages, it is logical to assume that each of the two missing pages may contain information pertinent to Parcels 33 and 34. Like the disappearance of Moab's mythical hovering drill rigs, they have vanished overnight.
I am not a conspiracy theorist, but the missing and obfuscated information regarding URLEA Parcels 32, 33 and 34 is too much to ignore or to sweep under the rug. My questions are these. Who made the heretofore unmentioned agreement to convey any lands in Grand and San Juan Counties from BLM to SITLA? Who decided that the parcels in question were to be assessed as “grazing land” or "residential", when in at least the case of Parcel 32, that is obviously not true? Why are two critical pages of the legal Agreement missing from the public record? Why is any Grand County or San Juan County land conveyed to BLM or SITLA in a “recreational land swap” subject to subsequent sale and development of its mineral content? Is it just me, or does such an outcome directly contradict the spirit, if not the letter of this law?
The BLM deadline for written protests to any aspect of the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act (URLEA) is March 24, 2014. Even if you read this article after that date, it is appropriate to fax your protest to: (801) 539-4237. You may protest by U.S. Mail to: UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Utah State Office, 440 West 200 South, Suite 500 Salt Lake City, Utah 84101-1345. Since it is obvious that BLM and SITLA need to reassess the URLEA, I am sure that your comments will not be ignored.