When President Donald Trump redrew the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, he appears to have cut out land owned by one of the monument’s harshest critics — Rep. Mike Noel.
A Montana-based conservation group says Noel’s ownership of a 40-acre parcel within the original boundaries of the larger monument represents a conflict of interest that he obscured from the public by not listing the name of Noel’s land company on documents each lawmaker must file at the beginning of legislative sessions.
Noel advocated for shrinking the monument, and even sponsored a resolution in 2017 calling on Utah’s congressional delegation to support shrinking the monument, which the president did in December after months of speculation.
Meanwhile, he had hundreds of acres of farmland near the monument and the parcel within, all owned by a company he didn’t list by its registered name on conflict of interest forms.
“In total, Noel owns $1,291,748 worth of land through that company,” the group, Western Values Project, wrote in a report it released Monday.
Noel concedes the 40 acres in question was “most likely” outside the monument after the recent boundary change. But he vehemently denies any conflict or attempt to disguise his ownership. Having the property within the monument, he argues, was actually a financial benefit.
Kane County property records show Noel owns hundreds of acres of land adjacent to the original boundaries of the nearly 1.9 million-acre monument that Trump halved. Forty acres within the original monument are owned by Noel Properties, LLC, which also owns nearly 600 acres just over the border, in Coconino County, Arizona.
In his most recent disclosure forms, Noel listed three names of ranches – Flood Canyon, Lost Spring Gap and CMS Agriculture – only one of which is a registered business entity with the state. Flood Canyon Ranch, LLC, which Noel lists as one of three sources of employment, isn’t registered with the state Division of Corporations.
Western Values doesn’t claim Noel necessarily benefited from the ownership, but says it should have been made clear given Noel’s advocacy around the monument.
Noel on Tuesday said Noel Properties is a family trust. He said it’s “more than likely” that the 40-acre parcel is now outside the monument boundary, but said he hadn’t positively confirmed that. He files taxes every year on the land, he said, so it wasn’t hidden.
“The property’s disclosed, and there’s really no attempt to hide anything there at all,” Noel said. “There would be no reason to do it.”
He also said he didn’t benefit financially from the land’s removal from the monument, and actually may have been better off with its previous inclusion because conservation groups and residents hoped to buy it from him when there were limits on development under its protected monument status.
“Part of the benefit of it — two things. No. 1, it’s an inholding within the monument which makes it very valuable for exchange. And No. 2, there’s a lot of people that would like to have that piece of property, because you know no one’s ever going to build around it,” Noel said.
“So having it out of the monument wasn’t a big deal to me,” he said. “I didn’t lobby for it. I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t get involved with it.”