This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A fresh proposal for expanding the Utah Test and Training Range has hit Congress, this time identifying mineral-rich federal lands to be traded with the state as well as giving Utah easements to hundreds of routes in Juab, Tooele and Box Elder Counties.
Environmentalists already were suspicious of the range's 625,643-acre expansion, contained in six blocks around the range's periphery and a seventh spanning the Newfoundland Mountains at the northwest corner of the range. The U.S. Air Force and Army use these huge swaths of the Great Salt Lake Desert to train pilots and test advanced weapons systems.
But some of the land trades would invite mineral development in mountains with wilderness values, according to a critique offered by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, or SUWA. Granting the road easements serves no military purpose, SUWA adds, and would penetrate lands proposed for wilderness, such as the Deep Creek Mountains, as well as the Cedar Mountains, designated as wilderness in 2006.
"I see it as a land grab to give counties thousands of mile of roads. A lot of them are just tracks and traces," said Don Duff, a part-time resident of Callao, a ranching town tucked under the east slope of the Deep Creek Mountains. "There is no process to give the public a voice to express concerns about what's going to happen to these lands. It is hastily conceived."
This month Utah's Rep. Chris Stewart introduced a range-expansion bill that had previously been introduced in the Senate without making much headway. On Thursday, the House Natural Resources Committee will hear the new bill, formally known as the Utah Test and Training Range Encroachment Prevention and Temporary Closure Act.
On Monday, the Utah Senate unanimously passed a resolution endorsing the land exchanges in the federal legislation. This bill trades 84,000 acres of checkerboard trust lands sections within the range's revised boundaries for 99,000 federal acres in 15 clusters around the West Desert and elsewhere in the three counties, according to SCR8.
"We are trading land that is currently used for some grazing, and I'm sure there are jack rabbits breeding on that property, and we're trading it for other resources," the resolution's sponsor, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, told a legislative panel earlier this month.
"The grazing lands will stay there in the name of Bureau of Land Management," he said. "They won't go to Department of Defense. It allows for the training and testing of more modern weapons. It will only be used for flyovers. There won't be anything dropped. The bombing range won't be expanded, per se. Ranching activities will continue."
Stevenson added: "If we can't do this expansion some of this testing and training ends up getting sent to Australia and that's expensive for the U.S. taxpayer."
The BLM lands to be acquired by the state hold minerals that have already been explored, according to the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA.
"If these 15 exchange targets come to fruition, we are translating what is worth $10,000 to $20,000 revenue to us to literally millions when things ultimately mature," said Kim Christy, SITLA associate director.
One of the locations to be acquired is next to existing mining operations on the northwest shore of the Great Salt Lake, and another is an active limestone quarry and processing plant south of Delta at Cricket Mountain. It is operated by British Columbia-based global mining firm Graymont.
"Cricket Mountain is fully operational, employs hundreds in Millard County with potential for expansion over a long time and to create a lot of jobs and put a lot of revenue into the school trust," SITLA general counsel John Andrews said. "It is completely covered with historic mining operations, roads and active mining claims and a giant industrial facility."
Another place slated for exchange is the Drum Mountains, where SITLA would get about 20 sections, many of them adjacent to lands SUWA proposes for wilderness. This area is covered with historic mines, although there are no active claims, according to Andrews. "In our view it is just not wilderness," he said.
SUWA's legal director Steve Bloch disagreed.
"These lands have wilderness values. When we asked them to look elsewhere they didn't seem interested," Bloch said in an interview.
SUWA was most concerned about provisions in Stewart's bill that essentially resolve Utah road lawsuits against the federal government in favor of the three counties. The counties brought the road claims under an obscure 19th century law that was repealed in 1976. SUWA contends 5,000 to 6,000 miles of routes are at stake, some crossing lands managed as wilderness or natural areas, such as the Stansbury Mountains and the northern Oquirrhs.
"It's a facet of the land grab movement. There is no connection between ensuring military readiness and the future of the test range. It's just an add on," Bloch said.
Rep. Rob Bishop's public lands initiative attempts to pull off a similar roads feat for the seven eastern Utah counties that participated in that process.
When the range expansion was first floated, residents in the remote Juab towns of Callao and Trout Creek were concerned military operations would cut them off from the rest of the state for long periods and interfere with ranching operations. This is because a big slice of Juab County would be added to the range directly east of these towns.
Stewart's bill tackles these issues by ensuring grazing would be accommodated and road closures would be limited to maximum three-hour windows and would not occur on holidays, Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. Closures lasting longer than three hours would be allowed only "for mission essential reasons" and would never exceed six hours.
"I do appreciate the BLM and Department of Defense. They typically do not include landowners, residents and county government when they make policies and I think they did an effort to do that. A lot of the concerns people had have been addressed. Hunting, grazing and roads are protected," said Juab County Commissioner Byron Woodland. "Rural county governments are very skeptical of the federal government. If they live up to that I am comfortable with that. Road closures will be for a maximum 100 hours a year."
No future mineral leasing would be allowed on the lands, but existing claims would remain in place.