In The Age-Old Battle Over Public Land, A New Push For Smaller Land Transfers
Roughly six years ago Hyde Park embarked on a journey to acquire a small slice of land on the city’s east side to build a new water tank.
“Just by chance [we] happened to find out that there was this little island of land that was owned by the Bureau of Land Management,” said Sharidean Flint, Hyde Park’s mayor.
Last year, the city was among a handful of cities and towns to acquire federal land as part of the Dingell Act. Flint said that she understands that a land transfer needs careful review.
“But, it seemed a bit excessive to take that long for just 80 acres of land that were fairly unimportant to the federal government and even to the state government. But kind of crucial to us,” said Flint.
When Hyde Park created its master water plan over six years ago it was prudent planning. Now, the population is growing at an unprecedented rate, said Flint, and the new water tank is even more crucial.
“It will enable the growth that is happening to actually continue happening up on our bench area,” she said.
The city also has plans to use the land for camping sites, hiking trails and a dog park.
“It has to be an open and public area forever,” said Flint.
Congressman Rob Bishop wants to make it easier to acquire federal land for public works and recreation projects. But, said he has no plans to touch any of Utah’s scenic gems.
“I’m not transferring Dinosaur National Monument over to the state government. We’re not trying to take you know, Bryce and Zion and give that to the state government,” said Bishop.
Bishop wants a law similar to one in Nevada that expedites the process by which the state can purchase federal land and use part of the revenue for public works, recreation and conservation purposes. Utah’s current system just isn’t working, said Bishop.
“If you don’t like what the federal government is doing with those decisions, it’s very difficult for people on the local level to actually have a voice,” said Bishop.
Bishop said he’s focused on acquiring pieces of land that have been forgotten by the Bureau of Land Management.
“The federal government does not have enough manpower to control everything they own. The federal government doesn’t even know everything that they own,” he said.
In Utah there’s a long history of political leaders attempting to acquire federal land.
“We’ve seen now three different movements surface. First the Sagebrush Rebellion, secondly the county supremacy movement snd then more recently the state land transfer movement,” said Bob Kieter, a land management expert and professor of Law at the University of Utah.
Cities and towns looking to acquire these small parcels of land is a different question all together, said Keiter. The reauthorization of the Federal Lands Transfers Act in 2018 requires that much of the BLM’s land sale revenues be used to purchase land for conservation purposes.
“So at the end of the day this is really just pretty much a wash in terms of who actually owns land – it just changes the pieces on the checkerboard so to speak,” said Keiter.
As for Hyde Park, building a new water tank is a lifeline, said Flint.
“A city can have the philosophy that well we don’t care if we grow. We don’t have to provide water for developers. We don’t have to have this rate of growth, we could just continue to be a sleepy little town in Northern Utah and be fine with that. But, you either grow or you die,” said Flint.
After all this time, there’s still one more delay in transferring the land.
“It’s actually not quite legally ours yet. We’re waiting for a signature,” said Flint.
Ashley Rohde contributed to this report.