It could settle, forever, Utah’s longest festering sore. I have a bill, SB 105, it gets a hearing Monday afternoon at 2.
There are a lot of people who think Utah owns 32,000,000 acres of land that the Feds claim in Utah. That group, apparently includes the Governor, the entire Utah DC delegation, the Attorney General and big majorities in the Utah legislature. Evidence of their belief is the wrong-headed 2009 HB 148. These good folks claim that the Enabling Act of the Utah Constitution gives Utah that public land. I say that is bunk. Not even a close call.
But, I could be wrong. From statehood through the Sagebrush Rebellion to today, there has been this tension about who owns the land. The state is sure it is owed title. To the extent that the Feds care, they are firm that it’s federal land. Utah has spent many millions of dollars over the years on countless, endless lawsuits. Little skirmishes–over small plots of land or over small legal ideas. The state cannot say exactly what we have spent–or even how much we are spending now. The lawsuits come out of so many funds and different budgets it is tough to track. Whatever the cash outlay, it is a legal cluster and a pithole for taxpayers’ money! It is shameful. As a real fiscal conservative, I am appalled.
Whatever the exact number, Utah is spending millions now on half-baked lawsuits. For example, we are getting depositions at $1200 each from hundreds of individuals from all across the state. Elderly people who are giving depositions that, for example, have witnesses testify that in 1964 a road was in such and such a place and these witnesses remember walking on said road. Additionally, the state is rushing pile up these expensive interviews before people die. Even Rube and Goldberg would be appalled by this process. It’s ludicrous.
The state needs closure. We need to know with certainty and finality who owns the 32,000,000 acres. There will be no comprehensive land settlement until we know who owns the land! Once it is determined if it is Public Land or the state that is the owner, negotiations are going to move fast to solve these generational logjams! It has been years of almost fruitless negotiations because both sides think they are the boss.
Let’s have the highest court in the land decide–who owns this disputed land. Under original jurisdiction if possible. As quickly as possible. Once we have a full throated decision and ownership is decided, we can solve serious issues. Trade out the absurd patchwork of SILTLA land blotches. We can settle PELT payments in the long term with guaranteed steady income. Deal with water, grazing and management issues. We can create wilderness and protect our parks with buffers and yes, we can designate places for nasty fossil fuel extraction.
But, none of this can happen until we know the pecking order. That’s why I proposed SB 105. It would require the Attorney General to file suit over the ownership of the 32,000,000 acres that Utah claims. Not small, expensive piecemeal lawsuits. A granddaddy—decide the whole enchilada lawsuit!
A decision by the Supreme Court will end the paralysis of indecision. Either the Supreme Court will turn over the deed to the land to the state or SCOTUS will tell Utah that they have no claim. Either way, Utah can move on. We can seriously negotiate with the Feds knowing who the Alpha Dog is at the table.
Bring it on or our grandchildren in 2070 may well still be arguing about who owns the public land in Utah. It is a question that needs a final resolution.
SB 105, it gets a hearing Monday February 2 at 2:00 before the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee 415 State Capitol.
Posted originally on Senator Jim Dabakis’ blog. Reposted with permission.