May 18, 2006

BLM Land Sales Under Bennett Land Bill: It's All Who You Know

The major points of the Bennett/Matheson draft legislation for creating a Lake Powell Pipeline are well known: creation of utility corridors for the 73-mile pipeline and supporting infrastructure; the sale of 25,000 acres of BLM-controlled land; the designation of 219,000 acres as wilderness (including 92,914 acres of BLM land and 123,000 acres already within the boundaries of Zion's National Park); authorization for a highway through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.

But given the black box conception of the Bennett/Matheson Land Bill, it's worth noting some of the under-reported elements of the bill, especially those that benefit particular, narrowly defined groups, which might shed light on who had the good Senator's ear as the legislation came together. Just one example: the sale of 25,000 acres of BLM land.

Section 102 of the draft deals with particulars of the land sale; itis titled "Conveyance of Washington County Land." In that section, it states that "The [Interior] Secretary and The County, [after consultation with the State] shall jointly select which parcels of land" will be sold (102 (e)). This means County commissioners will have the authority to designate who is "qualified" to buy land under the bill (102 (g)).

The bill says "bidders," so it must be that the land would be auctioned off to the highest bidder, right? Absolutely, except when it wouldn't be. Subsection g, "Method of Sale," says that the land shall be sold "through a competitive bidding process, unless otherwise determined by the Secretary." The bill provides no criteria for the Secretary to use to determine whether an auction should take place; it's entirely at his own discretion.

So while talk is of the public getting involved in a "collaborative 'vision process'" and open, annual BLM auctions, in reality, the legislation gives County Commissioners control over selecting the land, and qualifying buyers, and the Interior Secretary can decide to sell the land directly to whoever he chooses.

Conclusion: if you're supporting the Bennett Land Bill because you have aspirations of picking up some BLM land out of it, you'd best start courting some Commissioners ASAP.

References: The Washington County Growth & Conservation Act of 2006 [, pdf]
Environmentalists threaten to kill Bennett's plan, by Joe Baird [, also at]

April 24, 2006

Bennett & Matheson Unveil Draft of Lake Powell Pipeline Legislation

On March 22nd, Sen. Bob Bennett [R-UT] and Rep. Jim Matheson [D-UT2] released the draft of their proposed legislation to create a water pipeline to Washington County from Lake Powell. Full text and a related map of The Washington County Growth and Conservation Act of 2006 are available at Bennett's Senate website and are mirrored on Zion Mojave Wilderness's site as well.

By combining the pipeline development with some national wilderness designation, BLM land sales (up to 25,000 acres, freeway construction, and off-road and recreational development, the bill is intended to bundle enough constituencies together to ensure quick passage.

One possible sticking point: the Utah Wilderness Coalition complained that the draft shortchanges conservation and wilderness issues at the expense of massive growth and development. In an open response to Bennett's draft, the UWC said that the public input and consensus building process originally begun under Governor Olene Walker had been abruptly halted in December 2004. Having been cut out of the drafting process, then the environmental groups are expressing serious reservations about the bill.

For his part, Senator Bennett says he wants to pair "responsible conservation strategies with Washington County's "phenomenal growth." In a press release, Sen. Bennett says, "This proposal is modeled after legislation authored by Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign of Nevada," and that successful bill, Bennett continues, can serve "as an example of how we can achieve the same kind of balanced growth in our own state."

Because if there's one thing Nevada and Las Vegas is known for, it's balanced growth.


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