A presentation on a Utah bill that would make it a misdemeanor crime to obstruct state or local roads began with a photo slideshow.
During the Monday hearing before a House committee, Rep. Phil Lyman flipped through pictures of “road closed” signs placed in the middle of a highway and makeshift barriers built from rocks, tree branches and piles of dirt. In what Lyman suspects might be an oversight, the law as currently written doesn’t provide any criminal penalties for blocking off these thoroughfares.
Rep. Lee Perry, a Perry Republican who chairs the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, said his district, too, has had problems with unauthorized road closures, especially during deer-hunting season when sportsmen are trying to stake out their territory.
Some in the room, though, were left scratching their heads.
“I’m not understanding,” Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, said. “Who is closing these roads and for what reason are they closing them? Are people just out randomly closing roads?”
Lyman, a Blanding Republican and former county commissioner, answered that in San Juan County, roads thread through isolated and pristine areas that many special-interest groups wish were closed to vehicle traffic. Under his proposal, HB179, blocking these thoroughfares without permission would be a class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $750 fine.
But Gavin Noyes, executive director of Utah Diné Bikéyah, an organization that works with native communities in southern Utah, said he believes Lyman’s legislation is a “bill looking for a problem.”
"I'm not aware of any organizations or volunteer groups that are out actively closing roads," he said.
Noyes also reported that the Navajo Utah Commission recently passed a resolution opposing the bill, out of concern it would preclude fast action to protect native cultural resources.
The law enforcement committee gave the legislation a favorable recommendation, with Hollins and Rep. Angela Romero, the only two Democrats present, dissenting. Lyman assured the committee that his bill would have no impact on sacred tribal places, but Romero, of Salt Lake City, said she remained concerned about the potential impact on these sites.
The bill recalls the stunt for which Lyman is most well-known: organizing an illegal ride through an archaeologically sensitive southern Utah canyon that the Bureau of Land Management had closed to motorized use. Lyman received a 10-day jail term for the conviction arising from the 2014 Recapture Canyon ride protesting BLM policies that many in San Juan County argue exclude the public from public lands.
With a favorable committee recommendation, Lyman’s bill will now move to the full House for consideration.