Utah has spent several hundred thousand dollars on an economic study of the costs and benefits of the state potentially taking control of tens of millions of federal acres, with the final product due in November.
Kathleen Clarke, director of state public lands, told lawmakers Wednesday that Utah has contracted with economists from Utah State and Weber State universities and the University of Utah to dig into the issue.
"Clearly we have opportunities as we look at the mineral resources in this state," Clarke said, "and they’ve been identified by many for their underlying values."
But the report will take a more holistic approach, looking at, for example, federal jobs that might be lost and whether they will be replaced with state workers.
"There are a lot of interesting questions," Clarke said, "and I think you’ll find the depth and breadth of this study is going to lay a foundation, not for giving decisions, but giving you data by which to make well-informed decisions."
Utah has spent nearly $547,000 thus far, mostly on staff salaries for items such as mapping projects, a review of public lands revenue, an analysis of current activities on federal land, and interacting with counties.
"It’s not an inexpensive study," Clarke said, "but it’s a lot of work."
The state has demanded Congress turn over tens of millions of federal acres — excluding national parks, monuments and some other protected areas — and notify Utah of its intention by December of this year. If Congress does not respond, the state may go to court and demand the lands.
The Legislature passed a bill in 2013 calling for a study of the economic impacts of such a transfer. Supporters of the shift have said developing those lands could mean hundreds of millions of dollars for education, but environmental advocates say that would mean drastically increasing extraction and development of some of Utah’s pristine areas.
Nevada contracted with a private company to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of that state taking control of public land. That report, released last month, estimated that if Nevada controlled the federal lands, it could bring in between $31 million and $114 million to the state.
Clarke said Utah’s team has looked at the Nevada report, but believes the Beehive State’s product will be much more comprehensive.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.