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Moab City Council Asks Trump Administration To Cancel Upcoming Auction Of Public Land For Drilling

Phot of a road sign
Joe Shlabotnik via Creative Commons
Local officials in Moab and Grand County worry about increased traffic on Highway 313, a popular recreation roadway that leads to Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point.

The City of Moab is asking the Bureau of Land Management to cancel plans to lease large swaths of public land around Moab to oil and gas developers.

The city council voted this week to oppose the entire lease sale, which has garnered national attention. It is scheduled to take place in September and includes around 85,000 acres in Grand and San Juan Counties. The land proposed for the sale includes acreage right next to Canyonlands National Park as well as Dead Horse Point State Park, and officials at both the city and county level worry energy development in that area could hurt Moab’s economy.

“Obviously, Moab’s economy is tourism and recreation driven,” said City Councilmember Kalen Jones. “And this is a massive industrial development that traverses some of our prime recreational areas.” 

The BLM rejected applications from both Moab and Grand County to participate in the preparation of an environmental analysis for the sale, so Moab’s council is submitting a letter to the BLM as part of the public comment period. The letter outlines the reasons the council opposes the sale, which include the potential impact to its economy as well as concerns about light and air pollution.

“The iconic views that drive Moab’s substantial tourism economy will be compromised by power lines, access roads, pipelines, air pollution, industrial truck traffic, and other developments,” the letter says. 

Local officials at the county level share city officials’ concerns about increased traffic in popular recreation areas. Trucks and tankers would have to use Utah State Highway 313, a two-lane road that leads to Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands, to access much of the land. Data from the Utah Department of Transportation shows an average of 2,600 vehicles traveled on the 22 mile road per day in 2017, the latest year for which data was available.

“My main concern is increased truck traffic on 313 to all these trailheads,” said Grand County Councilmember Evan Clapper, who owns an outdoor tour company. “Trailhead parking lots are overflowing onto the shoulder of 313. There’s road cyclists pedaling on 313, there’s rock crawlers driving 10 miles an hour on 313.”

Clapper opposes the lease sale and said he is confident he can get the rest of the county council to vote to submit a letter asking the BLM to cancel the sale, like Moab. He plans to bring the subject up for a vote at their meeting on July 7.

But even if the county joins the city in opposing the sale, it won’t guarantee the sale is canceled. 

“I’m unsure how the BLM will respond to our comments,” Clapper said. “I don’t even know that we’ll get a response, judging by the communication we’ve had with them so far.”

The public comment period for the lease sale closes July 9.

Kate Groetzinger is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southeast Bureau in San Juan County. Follow Kate on Twitter @kgroetzi

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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