Land swap could raise millions for Utah schools

SALT LAKE CITY — A Layton lawmaker is sponsoring legislation to approve a proposed federal swap of key school trust lands in Utah for property adjacent to the Utah Test and Training Range.

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, is sponsoring SCR8, a resolution approving a land exchange he believes could produce millions of dollars of new revenue for Utah schools. He presented SCR8 to the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee on Feb. 1.

“A year ago, we began discussing a bill that (U.S.) Sen. (Orrin) Hatch is introducing into Congress. In that introduction, he proposes an exchange from the feds to Utah,” Stevenson said. “There’s 84,000 acres leaving the feds, and we get back 99,000.”

The ground Utah would trade spans terrain in Box Elder, Tooele, Juab and Washington counties. Acres the state would acquire stretch across Box Elder, Tooele, Juab, Millard and Beaver counties.

“There are mining operations in the areas we’re trading into, so we’re trading land that is currently used for some grazing … for other resources,” Stevenson said. The grazing lands would remain under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management rather than shifting over to the U.S. Department of Defense, he added.

“This allows the Utah Test and Training Range to utilize modern weapons,” Stevenson said. But these added parcels would primarily be used for flyover, he added, rather than the dropping of bombs.

Stevenson commended Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration for working on the land trade described in SCR8.

“They did a very good job of making sure this is a win-win-win for the state of Utah, especially through our trust lands, and it’s definitely a win for our Department of Defense and what they’re allowed to do,” Stevenson said, adding that testing and training on the new F-35 and several other weapon systems at Hill Air Force Base would likely have to be done in Australia without this land swap.

John Andrews, associate director and chief legal counsel for SITLA, explained that some of the land SITLA would gain contains existing and historic mining operations that could prove lucrative.

“SITLA’s job is to put revenue into the school fund. That is what we live and breathe, is making money for the school kids,” Andrews said. One site is a fully active mining operation that employs scores of people in Millard County. Another is chock-full of historic mines.

“The BLM, which manages the land now, has the land entirely open for locating mining claims,” Andrews said, adding that Utah would not change that.

Mark Compton, president of the Utah Mining Association, voiced strong support for the swap.

“The lands that SITLA would be obtaining here are of high mineral potential and would be a great economic development tool in very rural areas of the state,” Compton said.

According to SITLA Deputy Director Kim Christy, the economic benefit of the transfer could be impressive.

Current revenues from the grazing range yields between $10,000 to $20,000 per year, Christy said, while the land acquired in the exchange could yield millions.

Steve Erickson, representing the Utah Audubon Council and also a board member for the Great Basin Water Network, raised concerns about potential disruption to Snake Valley residents who utilize one major road through that area. With the expanded flyover zone, that road could be closed at times.

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, said she’d received several emails from residents who were concerned about road closures during flyovers.

Stevenson said the road closures would last very short periods of time. And Christy said he believed Hatch had been heavily involved in addressing those concerns.

The committee advanced the resolution to the senate in a 7-0 vote.

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