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Who can save the Bonneville Salt Flats? Maybe a President Trump

First Published      Last Updated Jan 03 2017 11:18 am


Seeking legislation » Bill would require the BLM to establish a plan to restore the salt surface.

Some southern Utahns may hope that a "Trump card" will help them defeat the recent designation of the Bears Ears National Monument, but a northern Utah fandom is hoping the Trump administration will favor preserving their favored landscape.

The Save the Salt coalition and the land-speed racing community had planned to pursue federal legislation aimed at preserving the Bonneville Salt Flats last fall. But in the wake of November's election results, the racers decided to hold off until this spring, hoping to improve their chances of success.

Michael Swenson, a lobbyist hired to help push the racers' bid to save the Salt Flats, said he has spoken with individuals on the incoming president's transition team, and believes that a Donald Trump-led government would support the legislation.




He would not identify the individuals he said led him to believe the Trump administration "could be supportive and helpful."

Early research from the University of Utah indicates the Bonneville Salt Flats have shrunk over the past 30 years. Scientists are researching why.

The yet-to-be-introduced bill would require the BLM to establish a management plan to restore salt conditions on the flats to their pre-1960 conditions by 2026.

The land-speed racing community believes mismanagement by the BLM has led to the flats' decline. The BLM has agreed to review the management plan proposed by the racers, but local leaders within the agency have also said they are inclined to wait until additional scientific research reveals more about the nature and cause of the decline.

To be fair, Swenson said, there was no indication that the Obama administration would have fought the Save the Salt initiative.

"I don't think any administration wants to be at the helm when one of the most iconic places in the world goes down in flames," he said.

But other factors got in the way of the planned fall introduction for the bill.

A proposal like this, Swenson said, is going to require federal funding. In order to secure that funding, the bill was going to need strong support from Congress . In the turmoil surrounding the 2016 election cycle and its aftermath, he worried it would be difficult to grow that level of commitment.

Having the support of the president could prove useful if both congress and the BLM refuse to act on the proposed plan, Swenson said — there's always the possibility of a presidential order.

However, Swenson said that because the bill will require federal funding, he felt it more appropriate to approach Congress first. And that being the case, he said it was decided that the proposal would have a better shot before a newly reconvened, refocused congress.

Louise Noeth, a spokeswoman for the Save the Salt coalition, said she thought it was wise to avoid introducing their proposal during the elections "cauldron of caustic nastiness."

She remained cautiously optimistic about the bill's prospects. The incoming administration may have expressed support for the proposal, but Noeth said she will wait and see whether anything comes of it.

"Frankly, I don't know that anybody knows what shot they've got under the new administration," she said. "It's one thing to make promises. It's another thing to keep those promises."

epenrod@sltrib.com

Twitter: @EmaPen

 

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