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A bill that would eliminate the position of state archaeologist and shift the oversight of projects with cultural and archaeological issues from the state's Division of History to the Public Lands Policy Coordination Office cleared a committee Friday and now moves to the full House.

Proponents say HB139, sponsored by Rep. Bradley Johnson, R-Aurora, would expedite energy development and other projects. Critics argue the bill is an attempt to bypass archaeologists - gutting any meaningful oversight and protection of Utah's cultural resources.

Johnson sponsored a similar bill last year, which stalled. Under the new bill, those who can review projects have been widened to include non-archaeologists, so long as they meet Public Lands office guidelines. The bill also gives the Public Lands office the ability to mediate disputes over archaeological issues between state agencies.

"Fourteen years ago I helped put together the current law. But the landscape was a lot different back then. There weren't nearly as many companies doing archaeological or historical work as today. And some of that is starting to strain the structure," said John Harja, assistant director of the Public Lands Policy Coordination Office.

But Renee Barlow, research curator of anthropology at the Utah Museum of Natural History, warned that taking ultimate oversight away from qualified state archaeologists would jeopardize cultural resources.

"Utah's cultural resources are world-class. I'm a little afraid of what might happen if this [bill] is accepted," she told members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee.

Barlow says she spoke on behalf of state archaeologists who fear repercussions if they oppose the bill. But Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, claimed he had e-mails from archaeologists both opposing and supporting the measure.