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Rally opposes bill before Congress dealing with Washington County land

Published July 26, 2006 1:13 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

ST. GEORGE - A grassroots organization unhappy with a bill intended to guide land-use issues in Washington County held a rally Tuesday night, saying the bill, recently introduced in Congress, is flawed and should be postponed until more input can be gathered from a broader spectrum of the community.

Lin Alder, executive director of Citizens for Dixie's Future, said the bill was constructed before the public had an adequate chance to comment and favors special interests. "It's putting the cart before the horse," said Alder.

The rally, held at the Washington County office building in St. George, was intended to bring awareness to the bill that was two years in the making by a select committee representing a variety of interests from environmentalists to the water conservancy district to county commissioners. The Washington County Growth and Conservation Act of 2006 was introduced in the Senate by Utah Sen. Bob Bennett July 12, and in the House by Rep. Jim Matheson two days later.

The sweeping proposal includes how lands should be used in the future for water projects, wilderness, all-terrain-vehicle use, wild and scenic rivers designations and habitat for threatened plants and animals.

The intention is to create a strategy to answer the explosive growth that is expected as southwestern Utah's population swells with an influx of new comers.

"We need a smart growth plan . . . with a common sense of place," said Alder. He said the plan should include mixed land use minus the blight of urban sprawl, and variety of transportation choices.

Alder and others are afraid the land will be purchased by developers who will perpetuate the problem of housing developments and malls without proper planning.

It is an issue that worries Springdale City Councilwoman Louise Excell, who told the 100 people attending the rally that nostalgia for how things were done in the past, cannot be the guide for the future. "We can't be looking in the rearview mirror when we should be looking forward," she said.

"Now St. George is a prosperous destination that will become the next Phoenix or Las Vegas if something is not done," she said. "We need managed growth."

One of the more controversial issues is the selling off of more than 23,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management property that, all but 4,300 acres of which has not yet been identified.

Alder and others believe the best way to identify how much land, if any, should be sold, should come from a quality growth plan currently being worked out.

The plan, called Vision Dixie, is being spearheaded by the Nature Conservancy and Envision Utah, which Alder said does a good job of drawing input from a broad spectrum of residents and interests.

Alyson Heyrand, a spokeswoman for Matheson's office, said earlier Tuesday that Matheson has received hundreds of letters since the bill was introduced to the public and that hearings in Washington on the proposed legislation have yet to start. She said the issue is a chance for communities and residents to get involved in the planning process of what BLM lands should be disposed of and what they should be used for.

"[Matheson] supports an inclusive process," she said.

It will be up to individual communities to decide what of the remaining 23,000 acres of BLM land should be sold. Any proposal must go through a federal process that could take as long as 15 years.

The legislation requires the acreage to be disposed of, but not how it will be used. "That's for [residents] to decide," she said.

During the process, Heyrand encourages residents to bring their ideas to the table, attend workshops and look at the maps.

Earl Lee, who showed up at the rally with his horse, said he would like to see better access for equestrian trails in the northern part of the county.

He said BLM land is the only place left to ride in the county and would like it to stay that way.

"If they sell off the BLM land, where am I going to ride my horse?" Lee asked.

Luke Jackson, 25, said he attended the rally at the urging of a neighbor.

The St. George native, who likes to rock climb and explore the area's redrock country, said young people do not pay much attention to political matters, but the rally caught his interest.

He does not think any more open space should succumb to development.

"We should try and keep the pretty areas open," said Jackson.

mhavnes@sltrib.com

Proposal summary

For a summary of the draft proposal of the Washington County Growth and Conservation Act of 2006 visit http://bennett. senate.gov or http://house.gov/matheson.

For information about Citizens for Dixie's Future visit http://

http://www.citizensfordixiesfuture.org.