Goblin topplers may spur new law against wilderness vandalism
Outrage over a toppled Goblin Valley boulder has prompted a Utah lawmaker to draft legislation promising stiff fines for those who dare vandalize the state's natural wonders.
Angry constituent calls started coming in to Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, just days after David Hall and Glenn Taylor posted a video on the Internet of Taylor pushing over an ancient rock formation in Goblin Valley State Park. People wanted to know why the men weren't arrested and charged, Pitcher recalled. So he called park authorities and was surprised to discover there is no law specifically addressing the men's actions.
"We don't really have anything on the books as far as state laws that deals with things as priceless as these geological formations, these antiquities, these really beautiful, irreplaceable wonders that we share here in Utah," Pitcher said.
Utah State Parks Director Fred Hayes agreed, saying that while some laws exist to deal with vandalism, they're mostly geared to the destruction of human-made property. That makes it difficult to use those laws for incidents like the one shown in the video which had more than 4.5 million views.
"Traditionally, the courts have always looked at what is the cost," Hayes said. "But there's no way to put a value on a goblin."
In response, Pitcher is now in the process of drafting legislation that would penalize people who damage Utah's natural environments. The bill is still being written, but Pitcher says he hopes it makes actions like those of Hall and Taylor a felony. Pitcher also envisions a fine of up to $15,000 and jail time for future offenders.
Pitcher's bill is currently being examined by legislative research attorneys. He anticipates the attorneys' findings by the end of November or the first week in December. The bill will then move through the normal legislative process during the 2014 session. Pitcher has marked the proposed legislation as a priority bill and said that, while he anticipates tweaking and debate on specifics, he also expects it to pass into law.
"I'm looking to get it passed and signed by the governor," Pitcher said.
Hayes has spoken with Pitcher about the bill and passed along information about the investigation into the toppled goblin.
In the meantime, the investigation into Hall and Taylor continues and no charges have been filed. Hayes said Friday afternoon that the investigation could take two more weeks because authorities are still struggling to assign a value to the toppled formation. Engineers have been called into calculate the cost of repairs, though Hayes described the process as mostly "academic" because an actual repair might be too costly and could introduce liability issues.
According to Hayes, the courts have remedies to recoup the cost of the investigation including paying for engineers to examine the site though it will be up to prosecutors to decide how to pursue those remedies.
The Emery County Attorney's office has received a partial report on the incident from investigators. A secretary for the county attorney said Friday that a full report is anticipated during the first week of December, after which charges may follow.
Hall and Taylor have insisted they toppled the rock formation on Oct. 11 out of concern that it would fall and hurt someone, with Hall pointing out that his uncle was killed by a falling boulder. The men, who were at the state park with the Boy Scouts, were later removed from their leadership positions.