This is an archived article that was published on in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

President Barack Obama's designation Wednesday of the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County elicited the expected response from Utah politicians, who took turns denouncing the act as cataclysmic.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who introduced the so-far unsuccessful Public Lands Initiative in Congress as an alternative, said the designation deprives local communities of a voice.

Gov. Gary Herbert was disappointed, as was House Speaker Greg Hughes.

Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee vowed to do everything they can to get it reversed in the new Trump administration.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is looking at a potential lawsuit.

Even Utah's State Auditor John Dougall and Treasurer David Damschen weighed in about how appalled they were.

The Utah officials, of course, believe land-use issues are better left in the hands of the local jurisdictions and residents of the affected areas.

But are they really?

Let's take a look at the record of Utah's handling of public lands and natural resources over the past year.

One such brilliant scheme was the Utah Legislature's endorsement and financial commitment as a backup for a $53 million investment in a deep-water port in Oakland to ship eastern Utah coal abroad to China and other overseas markets.

That, despite the fact Oakland officials say they won't allow the port to be built, and China has such a glut of coal it doesn't need imports.

So much for sound business sense.

The Legislature approved in March the swap of $53 million in state sales tax revenue, which had been earmarked for transportation, for an equal amount of royalties from the Permanent Community Impact Board.

The state money would be deposited in a newly created infrastructure fund controlled by the CIB.

The $53 million originally was going to come directly from the CIB, which takes money from federal oil and gas lease royalties and uses it to fund projects designed to benefit communities impacted by the drilling projects.

Usually the funds are used for roads, sewers and other infrastructure improvement projects that are within the state. Using that money for out-of-state oceanic coal ports is, to say the least, unusual.

When criticism of the plan reached peak levels, the fund swapping scheme was devised by legislators because the state funds did not face the same kind of regulatory barriers.

Now, after all that, the Oakland coal port proposal is all but dead.

So what's next?

Then of course there is the "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" approach of the Utah Legislature, which has indicated it is willing to spend up to $14 million on a lawsuit to force the federal government to turn control over public lands to the state.

That, beside the fact most attorneys say such a lawsuit would be frivolous because legal precedent backs the federal government's right to control federally designated lands.

The attorneys who believe the state has a good chance of winning and have convinced our lawmakers to go along are, of course, attorneys for the Davillier Law Firm that was paid a good sum to study the feasibility of the lawsuit and stands to be the firm that would be paid much of the money for the lawsuit if it should come to pass.

Tellingly, the Davillier report was given to the Republican leaders of the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands and was not shared with the two Democratic legislators on the commission.

The Legislature in its last session committed $4 million of the possible $14 million to go ahead and begin preparation for the lawsuit.

Another $250,000 was earmarked to go toward a group created by rural county commissioners called the Utah Rural Alliance, a non-profit committed to rural issues. Among the possible uses for the fund would be to defend public officials facing charges for standing up for local causes.

That might include San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman who was convicted of leading an illegal ATV protest through Recapture Canyon, which had been closed by the Bureau of Land Management to protect American Indian artifacts.

The Legislature came up with the slush-fund idea after an initial proposal to use taxpayer money directly for Lyman's defense was met with stiff public opposition.

So we're now in the business of using public money to defend people we, or our elected representatives, decide are the good guys.

Then, of course, there is the newly proposed prison site.

After much of the deliberation outside the public purview, the Legislature's prison relocation committee chose a site near the Great Salt Lake in Salt Lake City.

Then, after the commitment was made, problems began being revealed.

It will take a great effort and a lot of money just to stabilize the soil near the lake before building can commence.

There are wetlands and migratory birds to worry about.

Swarms of mosquitoes will create a never-ending irritant.

And, there could be potentially poisonous dust storms created by the shrinking lake.

So, these are the guys we should trust as stewards of our public lands and resources? —